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Thread: My problems with religion

  1. #16
    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by t0sh View Post
    Name one moral thing that a Christian can do better than an Atheist.
    If they know their faith, they know they are never wholly good or healthy but they and others can be by God's grace.

    Accepting all life as gift seems to me central to a Christian view.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

  2. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Helga View Post
    I am an atheist, or I usually say I'm agnostic, knowing it is the lazy man's atheist. I was once told that 'being an atheist, I act very Christian' I don't really know what that means but I think it has something to do with morality, and it is almost an insult, like I couldn't be a good and moral person and not have faith in some sort of deity.
    Right? I've had someone tell me that non-religious people don't have a conscience. The opposite seems to be true. An Atheist does the right thing because its the right thing. A religious person, at times, does the right thing for fear of of their God.
    Do, or do not. There is no try. - Yoda


  3. #18
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by papayahed View Post
    Right? I've had someone tell me that non-religious people don't have a conscience. The opposite seems to be true. An Atheist does the right thing because its the right thing. A religious person, at times, does the right thing for fear of of their God.
    We all make decisions based on a variety of factors. Atheists (and theists) might drive at 65 miles per hour because they are afraid they will get a ticket if they drive faster. Still -- their decision to drive more slowly (whatever their motivation) saves gasoline and lives. Legal sanctions, the approbation or disapproval of our peers, and many other factors influence our decisions -- but I don't thing these motives make us less moral. On the contrary.

    The notion that religion is a crutch seems naive. Surely the hope of heaven is counteracted by the fear of hell. Far from making one's life more comfortable, it seems to me that religion makes life more demanding and uncomfortable. Of course it may be true that some simplistic forms of "born again" Christianity offer security to the faithful, but more sophisticated forms of Christianity must entail constant (and failed) striving to achieve unattainable goals. "Be Ye Perfect."

  4. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by papayahed View Post
    Right? I've had someone tell me that non-religious people don't have a conscience. The opposite seems to be true. An Atheist does the right thing because its the right thing. A religious person, at times, does the right thing for fear of of their God.
    Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) claimed that conservatives respond equally high on six innate moral foundations but liberals are off-balanced preferring two or three of them. The off-balancing comes from cultural and personal choices that are afterwards rationalized (not rationally derived). Haidt is a liberal and an atheist. He is interested in how to help liberals win elections and his research shows why liberals who play down loyalty and the sacred (two of his six innate foundations) are setting themselves up for failure in elections. All groups "do the right thing", because they rationalize whatever they did as the right thing to do.

    The way I see it, claiming that the religious person does the right thing "for fear of their God" is a way for a non-religious person to rationalize the religious person as inferior in some way. This draws a boundary between the two groups primarily to remind the insider not to defect to the other group. The non-religious insider doesn't want to be labeled inferior. The religious insider doesn't want to "go to hell", which, if one sees past the fire and brimstone, is just a way to say that the outsider is inferior.

  5. #20
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    I think Papaya has a point. There are a fair number of "religious" people who primarily follow the strictures of their faith so that they will go to the good place instead of the bad place. In other words they are just operating in their own self interest. By the same token there are a fair number of people who only follow the laws of the land so that they will stay out of jail (or off the gallows) but wouldn't think twice about raping or stealing or murdering if the could get away with it.

    I also think Y/N has a point. There's an "us-ness" and "them-ness" inherent in human nature. We like to band together in groups. And "we" are right but "they" are wrong. People of reason deride people who take things on faith, and people of faith look down their noses at those godless commies. Even within relatively similar religious faiths I get the sense that everybody thinks they are a member of the One True faith, and everybody else is going to fry. I have even had conversations with people who seemed almost anxious to die just so that they could prove they were right.

    Flannery O'Connor wrote a good story about it: Revelation
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  6. #21
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sancho View Post
    I think Papaya has a point. There are a fair number of "religious" people who primarily follow the strictures of their faith so that they will go to the good place instead of the bad place....
    Fair enough. Religion obviously also has a function in building and defining groups. However, my moral codes (and probably yours as well) are culturally constituted and doubtless derived to a large extent from religious teachings. We can hardly infer from the notion that there is no God that it is suddenly OK to steal, kill and covet our neighbors things.

    For those with a humanist bent (like me, and like, I assume, most others who love literature) religions (and God) are, if nothing else, creative achievements of mankind. They have consumed the thoughts and efforts of a great many talented people, and inspired the efforts of a great many more. Of course we can also blame religion for witch killings, Inquisitions and religious wars.

    I just read "Darkness at Noon" (see my review), an expose of Stalinism. Koestler prefaces chapter 2 with a quote from Dietrich Von Nieheim, Bishop of Verden, written in 1411.

    When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality. With unity as the end, the use of every means is sanctified, even cunning, treachery, violence, simony, prison and death. For all order is for the sake of the community, and the individual must be sacrificed for the common good.
    Koestler then begins his chapter with an excerpt from Rubashov's diary (Rubashov is a committed communist who has fallen afoul of the Party, and is languishing in prison):

    The ultimate truth is penultimately always a falsehood. He who will be proved right in the end appears to be wrong and harmful before it.

    But who will be proved right? It will only be known later. Meanwhile, he is bound to act on credit and sell his soul to the devil, in the hope of history's absolution.
    Such is the case for Christians and atheists (Commies) alike. Idealism promotes evil -- but what is the alternative? Cynicism? Despair?

    If we see religious mores as a form of collective wisdom, we might respect them even though we see God as a metaphor or symbol. But modern liberalism must descry the sublimation of the individual and individual rights to either political or religious ideals.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 05-15-2017 at 06:54 PM.

  7. #22
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    Here is a short discription of Haidt's moral foundations: http://www.moralfoundations.org/ There is also a site listed there where you can test how you stand on these moral foundations.

    Ecurb's concern for "individual rights" seems to place him on the liberal side that is not using all six moral foundations equally. Also his view that moral codes are "culturally constituted" implies a belief in reason rather than acknowledging that what we really do is rationalize our prior choices. Haidt provides evidence that the belief in reason is a 200 year old error. Haidt prefers to side with Hume's intuitionism rather than rationalism. Our hearts not our brains give us our morals; our brain simply rationalizes our hearts' desires. Haidt's research justifies Hume's position and puts reason in its place.

    What is the problem with individual rights liberalism? The problem with it is we are not selfish individuals. We are not so much worried about our rights as our ability to serve others as groups. Haidt also seems to like the selfish individual even though his research suggests evolution is all about cooperative groups. He has a two level theory of evolution. This is where I disagree with him and where he would agree more with Ecurb. I favor just keeping the group evolution.

    If one does not recognize the individual need to altruistically serve the groups they belong to, this may weaken society. Liberal interest in abortion and patriarchy discredit the smallest, most immediate groups of society. Liberal scorn for religion discredits submission to higher powers (groups way beyond and more inclusive than any fantasy, liberal world government). What is left for the individual to serve? They could try to serve big brother manifested as large corporations or governments or world government utopias, but there is little for them to do there but consume, protest or work as selfish individuals. If we innately desire to serve altruistically, that is not satisfying. While some religious people may damn outsiders to hell after death, the non-religious people create a rationalized hell on earth damning us to selfishness and discredited service. Which is worse?
    Last edited by YesNo; 05-16-2017 at 11:01 AM.

  8. #23
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    When I spoke of "liberalism" I was thinking of classic, old-fashioned liberalism, one feature of which was respect for individual rights (as opposed, for example, to the notion that all rights derive from the King, or from God). This should have been obvious from the context of my post, in which "liberalism" was contrasted to the "leftism" criticized in "Darkness at Noon". Leftists scorn religion; classic liberals do not. In fact, Webster's #2 definition is, " a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity."

    The 6 "foundations of morality" to which YesNo linked are ridiculous, as is much evolutionary psychology. The website states: "Moral Foundations Theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists (see us here) to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.”

    Question: if "innate... psychological systems are the foundations of intuitive ethics", why have human ethics varied so dramatically through time and space?

    Here are the ridiculous six points from the moral foundations folks:

    1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
    2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
    3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."
    4) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
    5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

    We think there are several other very good candidates for "foundationhood," especially:

    6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor. We report some preliminary work on this potential foundation in this paper, on the psychology of libertarianism and liberty.
    Now it doesn't take a genius (or even someone who has read Koestler's "Darkness at Noon") to recognize that these foundations vary wildly. Stalinists betrayed #1 and #2 in elevating #4 and #5. Socrates, Plato and Jesus accepted slavery, ignoring #6 (and 1 and 2).

    Like may reductionist theories, evolutionary psychology paints with such broad strokes that it ignores nuance, history, culture and reality. By looking for common threads in human culture, it ignores cultural differences.

    YesNo accuses me of worshiping reason and rationalizing prior choices. But isn't that exactly what the silly evolutionary psychologists are doing? They have no evidence for their simplistic theories. Instead, they hypothesize that certain moral choices MAY have been selected for in the past (there is little evidence that they actually were). Of course this is true -- mammalian mothers must ignore self interest in favor of altruism or their children would all die. But where does this get us in terms of more complicated moral arguments? Indeed, it is the evolutionary psychologists (not I) who are "rationalizing". They see commonalities in ethics, and offer simplistic "explanations" for them -- explanations that have no predictive value and no nuance.

    I'll say this in favor of Christianity: it offered a new approach to morality. It offered prescriptions instead of proscriptions; "thou shalts" instead of "thou shalt not". I'm sure scholars can show that this was not as revolutionary as it might seem from reading the Bible, but to say that their are no differences between Old and New Testament morality is naive -- like the evolutionary psychologists who suggest that these differences must be the result of "psychology".

    I hope the evolutionary psychologists never get involved with literary criticism -- are all the great novels derived from the same evolutionary psychological "needs"? Are there no distinctions or nuances between what attracts readers to Shakespeare, Tolstoy, or Joyce? No doubt, there are some commonalities -- but in examining the forest, we must look at the individual trees or we miss something.

    Evolutionary psychology is fundamentally anti-intellectual, reducing complicated cultural constructs to simplistic evolutionary principles, and ignoring nuance, history, and (most important) the details, in which the devil lies.

  9. #24
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    When I read Dietrich Von Nieheim's quote:

    When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality. With unity as the end, the use of every means is sanctified, even cunning, treachery, violence, simony, prison and death. For all order is for the sake of the community, and the individual must be sacrificed for the common good.
    I immediately went to a top-down interpretation (perhaps a result of my cultural upbringing) and thought the Bishop meant the Catholic Church needed to keep the people in line in order to maintain its existence - a form of crowd control in the High Middle Ages, much the same as the Stalinist regime acted as crowd control against the Russian people in the 20th century. But after a little reflection (and a quick google search) I think Von Nieheim is referring to the Papal Schism and thus looking from the bottom up. The individual who must be sacrificed for the common good, in this case, is one of the popes (or antipopes).

    According to Wiki, Koestler took some liberties with Von Niehiem's words. Here's the actual quote from Dietrich's De Modis:

    Therefore, pay attention, o faithful. For obeying such quarrelers, and supporting those dividing the Church, we see as sinning most gravely and mortally -- dividing, I say, the Body of Christ among their wickednesses and sins. For I believe you have been freed from these tyrannical lordships already, if your obedience were not cherished.

    But if these two or three [popes and antipopes] will not concede voluntarily, it remains to proceed to stronger remedies. That is, overthrowing them and segregating them from the community of the Church, and, as I said before, taking away obedience from them.

    Then, if the Church will not be able to accomplish it in this way, then by way of deceit, fraud, arms, violence, power, promises, gifts and money, and finally, prison and death, it is appropriate to procure in any way whatever the most holy union and conjoining of the Church.

    Close to what was said by Tullius Cicero in De Officiis [III v 23]: 'This is what the laws look for, this is what they will: [the city] to be conjoined safely. So those who break the laws are punished by death, exile, chains, and fines.'

    At any rate, this is not to say the the Catholic Church didn't engage in crowd control in the Middle Ages. It did. It seems to me by promising the hoi polloi a glorious afterlife, the powerful men of the church could convince them to live a miserable life here on earth, which was indeed a "hell on earth", as you say Y/N. Wouldn't it cheapen your life here on earth if you're basing your existence on what comes next? Seems to me it did for the masses in the Middle Ages. Wouldn't they have demanded more had they not been promised their just rewards for towing the line? By contrast, wouldn't a person who has no delusions of an afterlife make the most their time here on earth, for self and community?
    Some people call me Maurice
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  10. #25
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    YesNo accuses me of worshiping reason and rationalizing prior choices. But isn't that exactly what the silly evolutionary psychologists are doing? They have no evidence for their simplistic theories. Instead, they hypothesize that certain moral choices MAY have been selected for in the past (there is little evidence that they actually were). Of course this is true -- mammalian mothers must ignore self interest in favor of altruism or their children would all die. But where does this get us in terms of more complicated moral arguments? Indeed, it is the evolutionary psychologists (not I) who are "rationalizing". They see commonalities in ethics, and offer simplistic "explanations" for them -- explanations that have no predictive value and no nuance.
    If I read Haidt correctly, he knows he's rationalizing. He is not claiming that he is on a privileged frame of reference above everyone else. Nonetheless, he does have evidence for those six moral foundations and for their innateness and for reason's less glorified role. You would have to look at his "The Righteous Mind" to get a survey of that evidence and then check its references. I am assuming they are now established.

    However, I do agree with you about Haidt's evolutionary theory that tries to explain the existence of those innate moral foundations. He bases it upon both a selfish individual and a group centered (or altruistic individual) evolution. Both are Darwinian perspectives on evolution. I think he is rationalizing to include the selfish individual and for this he doesn't have evidence that I am aware of from his book. He is now trying to make sense out of his evidence in terms of some Darwinian traditions. It is a rationalization that may well be false. I actually think it is false, because I rationalize his data differently.

    What I mean by liberalism is what Haidt means by it. I am apolitical. I am more interested in theist/atheist arguments than I am in Republican/Democrat political contests. I don't care who's president. Liberals would be people who are trying to get a Democrat elected into political office. Conservatives want the Republican to win. Haidt's claim is that the liberals have a moral disadvantage because they no longer appreciate all six of these moral foundations, but conservatives do. From my independent, apolitical position, that is how I see these two groups as well. Since he is confirming my common sense it is not hard for me to accept his data.

    What interests me is how does all the "selfish", that is, not "altruistic", talk about individuals affect what we mean by "hell", both in this life and any potential after life. My memory of C. S. Lewis, who believed in a Christian Hell, suggests that Lewis thinks hell is people getting what they want. Heaven or Hell: Do they want God's will or their own will? The two hells that I described in a previous post may be identical. The selfish individual goes to hell in this life because that individual cannot fulfill his/her altruistic nature. In the next, who knows? Perhaps that selfish individual gets what he or she wants: an isolated, selfish reality?

  11. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sancho View Post
    At any rate, this is not to say the the Catholic Church didn't engage in crowd control in the Middle Ages. It did. It seems to me by promising the hoi polloi a glorious afterlife, the powerful men of the church could convince them to live a miserable life here on earth, which was indeed a "hell on earth", as you say Y/N. Wouldn't it cheapen your life here on earth if you're basing your existence on what comes next? Seems to me it did for the masses in the Middle Ages. Wouldn't they have demanded more had they not been promised their just rewards for towing the line? By contrast, wouldn't a person who has no delusions of an afterlife make the most their time here on earth, for self and community?
    The theory is that we are "selfish individuals". As soon as we allow us to think about altruism, or our community, we acknowledge that we are no longer selfish, and that means the selfish individual theory is false. Now, I don't think we are selfish individuals, so I have no problem with making the most of my time here on earth for both myself and my community since the good of my community is my good as well. For me any selfishness is in the eye of the beholder. We think someone is selfish, but they are altruistic toward a different group. They may be misguided in their altruism and make mistakes, but they are still altruistic.

    So, we need to establish (or rationalize) as best we can whether we are selfish or altruistic. I have made my choice already. We are altruistic and so is all of nature. I don't see how evolution could have happened otherwise. That means, for me, in my own rationalization of what is real, there are no such things as selfish individuals, selfish genes, selfish memes or even selfish quantum particles.

  12. #27
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    You may be right about the Bishop's quote, Sancho. I just took it from the novel. Either interpretation could fit the novel's slant.

    Obviously, YesNo, there are selfish people (i.e. some people are more selfish than others, and some behaviors are more selfish than others). Of course the notion that man is FUNDAMENTALLY selfish (the so called "economic man" theory of behavior) is clearly incorrect, for both humans and for all mammals (and many other animals who care for their young).

    The logical error repeated over and over by evolutionary theorists is assuming the antecedent. Darwinian theory states: "if a trait (generally genetic, but it could be an inherited non-genetic trait, like learning a language) has adaptive value (increases descendant-leaving success and the spread of the gene) it will tend to become more prevalent."

    Many naive theorists, however, reverse that and say, "If a trait has become prevalent, it must have adaptive value." So they look at moral values, and say, "These moral values have prevailed in human history, so they must have adaptive value.' But that is both a logical error, and an error in cultural history. The moral values Haidt notes have NOT prevailed through human history, and even if they had, that would NOT be sufficient to demonstrate that they have adaptive value. The institution of slavery, for example, has been widespread throughout human history. Yet we moderns have abandoned it and find it morally repugnant. Is it our "intuitive ethics" that are repelled by slavery? If so, why were the Golden-Age Greeks not repelled by it?

    To understand ethics, religion, literature, or any of the other seminal works of mankind, we must look at ethics, religion, and literature. When we rely on reductionist theories (like evolutionary psychology) we miss the details, the nuance, and the ways in which PARTICULAR ethics originate and spread.

    Indeed, when we look at Sancho's theory that Catholicism's promise of a glorious afterlife was a social control mechanism, we might (while recognizing that there is some validity to the theory) wonder why so many other religions fail to promise a glorious afterlife (yet also offer the function of social control). The glorious afterlife is specific to Christianity and Islam (in general), and arose out of a specific Middle Eastern tradition. If one of its FUNCTIONS is to reconcile people to a lousy life on earth, we cannot conflate the function with the cause. One function of morality is to produce an orderly society -- but many different moral codes have served that function, and how these codes developed is a matter for scholarly inquiry, not for overly generalized hypothesizing.

  13. #28
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    Is it an either/or proposition? Aren't we selfish at times yet altruistic at others? Does it have to be all one thing and not the other? And is it strictly an individualistic trait or can groups act selfishly towards some groups yet altruistically with others?

    Also, I agree, there are nuanced differences in morals and ethical codes between cultures, but don't we all share the same morals on the basics? You know, the big ones - murdering, raping, robbing, the value of courage, honesty, care of children...stuff like that. I certainly haven't done a scholarly study of it. This is a layman' perspective, but as someone who has and does travel widely (it's part of my job) I am always struck by how much we are alike rather than different across cultures.
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  14. #29
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Of course each individual can be selfish and altruistic in different situations. I'm not sure I agree about the universality of moral codes, though. It is true that some morals are necessary for a society to function reasonably efficiently -- including the prohibitions against murder, rape and robbery that you mention. However, if there were some evolutionary psychological predisposition toward these codes, we might expect that they would be extended to all people (rather than just to members of one's social or political group). This has hardly been the case, historically. The Ancient Greeks (as just one example) saw nothing wrong with killing, raping, or robbing -- so long as one was killing, raping or robbing people from other groups. In fact, the Greeks thought trading with non-Greeks was wimpy. Why trade, when you could just take their stuff and give them nothing in return? Trade was cowardly. You killed, raped, or enslaved your defeated enemies (depending on their sex).

    Were these Greek traditions unique? I don't think so. War-like, primitive cultures where regular murder, rob and rape have been studied by modern anthropologists include the Yanamamo and other South American groups, as well as warlike people in New Guinea. And what about the horrors of 20th century Nazism or Communism? As Koestler points out, idealism -- founded on an intellectual basis -- trumps the disgust at murder, torture, mass imprisonment, etc. that evolutionary psychologists might deem universally human. The witch-killings and Inquisitions of the past serve as further examples of specific "moral" necessities (founded on specific religious teachings) overcoming the postulated evolutionary psychological foundations for morality.

  15. #30
    running amok Sancho's Avatar
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    I'm pretty sure the ancient Greeks raped regardless of their enemy's sex.

    But more to the point, I'm not sure the ancient Greeks even considered the Barbarians to be of the same species. Those other guys don't even talk right. They just go "Bar-bar-bar-bar" while we Greeks have an actual language. And language is to a large part what makes us human, eh? Many centuries later, when Europeans made contact with Native Americans, the church had a papal congress to determine whether or not the indigenous peoples in the new world were actually - people. You know, since they didn't show up anywhere in the good book. (The church decided, after much disagreement and tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth, that they actually were people) And not to let the Native Americans off too easily, I believe I read somewhere that the name for the northwestern tribe: The Nez Perse, loosely translates as : The Human Beings, meaning of course that everybody else is something less than Nez Perse.

    So I think the theory still works if you consider, as the world moved on, tribes morphed into city-states, then to nation states, then to huge global united nation states, sometimes along cultural lines, sometimes not. I may be channeling a Sam Huntington idea here.

    But there are exceptions to every rule. Which brings me to the 20th century.

    General "Buck" Turgidson to President Merkin Muffley:

    Well, I, uh, don't think it's quite fair to condemn a whole program because of a single slip-up, sir.
    Despite the nationalistic zealotry of the Nazis, I don't think it necessarily follows that the German people lack a moral disgust for murder. And as much as the Nazis dehumanized the Jews, the allies found it much easier, in that war, to shoot-to-kill the Japanese than the Germans. The Germans just seemed seemed to be more like real people.

    So anyway, it seems to me that we continue to muddle along and figure things out as a species, but there are still some basic, universal, human morals, regardless of culture.
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