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4 years ago  ::  Nov 03, 2010 - 5:24PM #1
JCarlin
Posts: 6,371

Oct 18, 2010 -- 6:21PM, rsielin wrote:


Socrates to Euthyphro: *Is moral social behavior good because it is pleasing to the Gods, or is moral social behavior pleasing to the Gods because it is good* 


Neitzsche asked: *Is man one of God's blunders or is God one of man's blunders?*


As a church-going person I do not believe that religion is the source of morality. In fact I believe it is our inborn moral yearnings that is the source of religion.  Gods are created by men but that fact does not demean the act of their creation. Gods evolve just as men do and gradually become both more sympathetic and empathic, and those worse repressed selfish and revengeful aspects of the old gods (and of those men who created them) are then reassigned to demons.


Interesting discussion on this essay by Frans de Waal, Director of the Living Links Center 
at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University can be found at
onthehuman.org/2010/10/morals-without-go...


... some thought provoking excerpts.


------


Don’t think for one moment that the current battle lines between biology and fundamentalist Christianity turn around evidence. One has to be pretty immune to data to doubt evolution, which is why books and documentaries aimed at convincing the skeptics are a waste of effort. They are helpful for those prepared to listen, but fail to reach their target audience.


The debate is less about the truth than about how to handle it. For those who believe that morality comes straight from God the creator, acceptance of evolution would open a moral abyss.


 Deep down, creationists realize they will never win factual arguments with science. This is why they have construed their own science-like universe, known as Intelligent Design, and eagerly jump on every tidbit of information that seems to go their way.


... humanity never runs out of claims of what sets it apart, but it is a rare uniqueness claim that holds up for over a decade. This is why we don’t hear anymore that only humans make tools, imitate, think ahead, have culture, are self-aware, or adopt another’s point of view.


Instead of blaming atrocious behavior on our biology (*we’re acting like animals!*), while claiming our noble traits for ourselves, why not view the entire package as a product of evolution?


While I do consider religious institutions and their representatives — popes, bishops, mega-preachers, ayatollahs, and rabbis — fair game for criticism, what good could come from insulting individuals who find value in religion? And more pertinently, what alternative does science have to offer?


Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives. We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.


Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately.


It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.


... we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today. On the other hand, what would happen if we were able to excise religion from society? I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good.


Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion.


 


 



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4 years ago  ::  Nov 03, 2010 - 5:26PM #2
JCarlin
Posts: 6,371

Oct 19, 2010 -- 10:21AM, newchurchguy wrote:


Oct 18, 2010 -- 6:21PM, rsielin wrote:


 what alternative does science have to offer?


Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives.  But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.


... we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today. On the other hand, what would happen if we were able to excise religion from society? I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good.  



 


rsielin,


This is the kind of post that has dissappeared from BNet as of late.  It was well expressed, sincere and very thought provoking. 


I am of the belief that science can explore the subject of ethics, through a program that defines realism and what are the influences that living things experience as they interact with the environment.


IMHO, there is a physical environment that is reflected in the biology of living things and that evolutionary processes are a primary way to understand how that reality shapes biological entities.


Newer - but gaining great momentum - is the study of the informational environment and how information processing has evolved.  Here, in the field of bioinformatics, I think there will be a return to the ideas of C. Darwin; who believed that mind when all the way back to the earliest life forms -- and away form the idea that mind is only a property that emerges from high complexity of neural systems late in the history of evolution.


Darwin's acceptance of some part of Lamarck's view is just - in the last decade - being vindicated.


Science will force a decision as to the viability of "emergent" mind via neo-Darwinian thinking vs the viewpoint that information processing IS mind and it goes right down to the information processes found in the simplest organisms.


Since information as a component of reality, is the minority view, (but with strong support in modern physics)- the idea that moral vectors are objective and in our environment is not even considered.


It is a worldview that I do consider and endorse, one where our innate moral senses of right and wrong are due to actual structure in the environment.  Science is far from addressing the idea that there are moral vectors - just like particle vectors and logical vectors.  However, science, I feel is making great strides in applying bioinformation research - which will clarify a simple solution to the "hard problem" of consciousness.


There is no endorsement for a god - if science finds structure (such as logic and math) that dictates that mind is perception of information.  Or, even if there is a natural structure that leads to innate morals.  However - that there is an objective informational and moral structure in our environment - counters the metaphysical claim that science predicts "no God".





J'Carlin
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4 years ago  ::  Nov 03, 2010 - 5:30PM #3
Jcarlinbn
Posts: 7,028

Oct 19, 2010 -- 1:57PM, Oncomintrain wrote:


Oct 18, 2010 -- 6:21PM, rsielin wrote:


Science is not in the business of spelling out the meaning of life and even less in telling us how to live our lives. We, scientists, are good at finding out why things are the way they are, or how things work, and I do believe that biology can help us understand what kind of animals we are and why our morality looks the way it does. But to go from there to offering moral guidance seems a stretch.


Even the staunchest atheist growing up in Western society cannot avoid having absorbed the basic tenets of Christian morality. Our societies are steeped in it: everything we have accomplished over the centuries, even science, developed either hand in hand with or in opposition to religion, but never separately.


It is impossible to know what morality would look like without religion. It would require a visit to a human culture that is not now and never was religious. That such cultures do not exist should give us pause.


... we do not need God to explain how we got where we are today. On the other hand, what would happen if we were able to excise religion from society? I doubt that science and the naturalistic worldview could fill the void and become an inspiration for the good.


Any framework we develop to advocate a certain moral outlook is bound to produce its own list of principles, its own prophets, and attract its own devoted followers, so that it will soon look like any old religion.



 
I'm going to offer a partially dissenting opinion here.


Unfortunately, I do agree that any formal framework of morality will tend, if it is adopted by enough people, to accrete "prophets" and other such malarky. I think to a large extent, that's what happened with many of the religions we have today. We're not satisfied to let a good teacher be a good teacher... he or she has to be made into a DIVINE teacher. And that "divinity" is used as a tool by people who want to gain power over others. What better way to gain power over others, after all, than by claiming to represent a god?


Where I disagree is the notion that we actually need an "inspiration" to behave morally. "Morality" is an instinct, and religion is an attempt to intellectually justify what we already feel. The specifics may change... what feels moral in one age might be blasphemy in another. Morality is derived socially, not individually, and exists to allow social animals to live with each other and survive in the world. As conditions change, so does the necessary morality.


While yes, atheists growing up in a Christian community will inevitably pick up some "Christian morality," I think it is truer to say that the "Christian morality" of any given community actually reflects the natural morality of that community. Indeed, it would be terribly hard to find a Christian community that actually follows all the rules prescribed in the Bible. They pick and choose, elide and "reinterpret". And of course, they have to. They select a vision of Christianity that reflects the moral beliefs they hold at a level more basic, less intellectual than religion. 


That is a living, breathing, evolving religion. That is Christianity (or any organized religion) at its best. Whether or not it has any actual truth to it at all, it serves as a means of reinforcing natural morality.


At its worst, as with the literalists, it attempts to take both the morality and their history in its Holy Books as both literal and immutable. And this results in a morality that is hundreds IF NOT THOUSANDS of years out of step with the moral demands placed on us by contemporary life.





 

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4 years ago  ::  Nov 03, 2010 - 5:33PM #4
Jcarlinbn
Posts: 7,028

Oct 21, 2010 -- 10:45AM, Kwinters wrote:


In Buddhist teachings people are to remember how kind others are to them: the postal delivery person, the shopkeeper, the farmer, the doctor, the teacher...


It doesn't matter if they are paid for the services they provide us, or even if they are motivated by compassion when they do their work.


The point of it is to recognise our interdependence upon others and how much we rely upon them and to be grateful for them and what they do.




 

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4 years ago  ::  Nov 03, 2010 - 5:56PM #5
Jcarlinbn
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Copied from DA.  Please note the first quote line is J'Carlin or jcarlinbn please delete it if quoting a post.  


Please stay on topic.  If you don't please I will be pleased to delete it.  


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3 years ago  ::  Jul 05, 2011 - 8:47AM #6
christine3
Posts: 6,653
Hello,
Everybody has said it already and very well.  So I'm not going to write a lot of paragraphs.  Suffice to say, in nature, it is better to be kind than mean.  See how far kindness gets you as opposed to meanness.  I don't see the need for a God.  What seems evident to me is the laws of nature, cause and effect, which dictates the moral imperative to be kind.  This is not to say I abandon all thought of self-protection if the need should arise.  Neither should that self protection be unintelligent, but only to the mark.  In this regard, my actions are not considered mean, and certainly are not without conscience, but necessary for the good of all.
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3 years ago  ::  Jul 20, 2011 - 10:59PM #7
BillThinks4Himself
Posts: 3,205

Jul 5, 2011 -- 8:47AM, christine3 wrote:

Hello, Everybody has said it already and very well.  So I'm not going to write a lot of paragraphs.  Suffice to say, in nature, it is better to be kind than mean.  See how far kindness gets you as opposed to meanness.  I don't see the need for a God.  What seems evident to me is the laws of nature, cause and effect, which dictates the moral imperative to be kind.  This is not to say I abandon all thought of self-protection if the need should arise.  Neither should that self protection be unintelligent, but only to the mark.  In this regard, my actions are not considered mean, and certainly are not without conscience, but necessary for the good of all.


You've got it down to a single commandment, a single rule, a code of one, a personal philosophy that informs everything you do.  Not bad.

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3 years ago  ::  Jul 21, 2011 - 12:22PM #8
christine3
Posts: 6,653

Unfortunately, I do agree that any formal framework of morality will tend, if it is adopted by enough people, to accrete "prophets" and other such malarky. I think to a large extent, that's what happened with many of the religions we have today. We're not satisfied to let a good teacher be a good teacher... he or she has to be made into a DIVINE teacher. And that "divinity" is used as a tool by people who want to gain power over others. What better way to gain power over others, after all, than by claiming to represent a god?


Where I disagree is the notion that we actually need an "inspiration" to behave morally. "Morality" is an instinct, and religion is an attempt to intellectually justify what we already feel. The specifics may change... what feels moral in one age might be blasphemy in another. Morality is derived socially, not individually, and exists to allow social animals to live with each other and survive in the world. As conditions change, so does the necessary morality.


While yes, atheists growing up in a Christian community will inevitably pick up some "Christian morality," I think it is truer to say that the "Christian morality" of any given community actually reflects the natural morality of that community. Indeed, it would be terribly hard to find a Christian community that actually follows all the rules prescribed in the Bible. They pick and choose, elide and "reinterpret". And of course, they have to. They select a vision of Christianity that reflects the moral beliefs they hold at a level more basic, less intellectual than religion. 


That is a living, breathing, evolving religion. That is Christianity (or any organized religion) at its best. Whether or not it has any actual truth to it at all, it serves as a means of reinforcing natural morality.


At its worst, as with the literalists, it attempts to take both the morality and their history in its Holy Books as both literal and immutable. And this results in a morality that is hundreds IF NOT THOUSANDS of years out of step with the moral demands placed on us by contemporary life.


_________________
I don't know if you have read any of Bonhoeffer's life.  He's dead now, hung for being a member of the resistance underground, plotting to assassinate the Hitler.  I watched a documentary of his life not long ago on PBS.

At the tender age of 23 he wrote his thesis, which I think was titled "Christ is in the Community (not in the church)". This is pertinent to your discussion that "it is truer to say that the "Christian morality" of any given community actually reflects the natural morality of that community.  He was hanged for being a member of the underground organization that tried to assassinate Hitler.  I find it oddly unsettling, being an atheist myself, to read the thoughts of a deeply convicted Christian man whose thoughts I very much relate to.  He straddles the line between Atheist and Theist so definitively, that IMO he could be called a Christian Atheist.  I was happy to find a link to some of his quotes.
thinkexist.com/quotes/dietrich_bonhoeffe...
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3 years ago  ::  Jul 21, 2011 - 12:28PM #9
christine3
Posts: 6,653

Jul 20, 2011 -- 10:59PM, BillThinks4Himself wrote:

Jul 5, 2011 -- 8:47AM, christine3 wrote:

Hello, Everybody has said it already and very well.  So I'm not going to write a lot of paragraphs.  Suffice to say, in nature, it is better to be kind than mean.  See how far kindness gets you as opposed to meanness.  I don't see the need for a God.  What seems evident to me is the laws of nature, cause and effect, which dictates the moral imperative to be kind.  This is not to say I abandon all thought of self-protection if the need should arise.  Neither should that self protection be unintelligent, but only to the mark.  In this regard, my actions are not considered mean, and certainly are not without conscience, but necessary for the good of all.


You've got it down to a single commandment, a single rule, a code of one, a personal philosophy that informs everything you do.  Not bad.





When I read "Billthinksforhimself" I am always heartened.

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3 years ago  ::  Sep 10, 2011 - 3:06PM #10
BillThinks4Himself
Posts: 3,205

Jul 21, 2011 -- 12:22PM, christine3 wrote:

While yes, atheists growing up in a Christian community will inevitably pick up some "Christian morality," I think it is truer to say that the "Christian morality" of any given community actually reflects the natural morality of that community. Indeed, it would be terribly hard to find a Christian community that actually follows all the rules prescribed in the Bible. They pick and choose, elide and "reinterpret". And of course, they have to. They select a vision of Christianity that reflects the moral beliefs they hold at a level more basic, less intellectual than religion. 


That is a living, breathing, evolving religion. That is Christianity (or any organized religion) at its best. Whether or not it has any actual truth to it at all, it serves as a means of reinforcing natural morality.


I think you're right.  If you look at Christian morality, Jewish morality, Muslim morality, Hindu morality, Buddhist morality - and every other example of "morality" qualified by some religious tradition - what you end up with is morality encased within a cultural context.


Show me a community where it's okay to kill or steal.  It's okay to kill those who threaten the community.  It's okay to steal from other communities.  But it's never okay to kill or steal from each other.  Even when some aspect of the culture allows the exploitation of one group by another - such as slavery or discrimination - it's really class warfare or some other struggle between different communities within the society.  It's civil war on some level.  


Wherever there are people living together as a community, there are rules.  While some rules are little more than cultural grooming, an identity formed by adopting a common dress code and a common diet, the ones that matter are universal.  Morality is functional.  It's all about keeping your damned, dirty hands off my person and property.  In the oldest, male-dominated societies, it included women as property, hence the prohibitions against adultery.


Every religion - and every sect within a religion - tracks back to a cultural moment, when one set of beliefs and practices made better fashion sense than another.  Religions - like movie productions - market to different communities, each showing up with a storyline that's competitively "timely."  But beneath the surface differences, you'll find the same universal issues, the archetypal stories that get retold from one production to the next.


I was teaching a group of kids from a story about a happy little home turned upside down by the introduction of a mirror.  There are these objects of desire, things we want, which end up becoming the sources of conflicts - and lots and lots of drama.  I had them think about the Garden story, with its forbidden fruit, as well as Midas and his golden touch.  We watched trailers from A Simple Plan and No Country for Old Men, and it was clear that the same story was being told, over and over again, though in different contexts.


Religion works best when it starts a conversation.  Judaism is the storyline of a scattered people remembering a nation that, until 1948, was as lost as Atlantis.  Christianity is the product of a multi-ethnic, multi-national Roman Empire.  Islam is the product of an Arabic renaissance, a creed to go with a seventh-century rise in status of Arab merchants tying the world together through commerce.  Hinduism is the message of unity tying together a polyglot tapestry of communities within the Indian subcontinent, a message where God could be God despite 800 different forms.  Buddhism is what happened to Hinduism as it wound its way into mountain retreats and small villages, in communities with no need of a caste.


Time and time again, religion justifies the home team as it adapts to the demands of its own environment.  Catholicism is what's left of the Roman Empire.  The Orthodox Church is what's left of the Byzantine Empire.  The Reformed Church came about as much from the economic and political ascendency of northern Europe as from Luther's reforms.  The Anglican Communion, or Church of England, resets the axis mundi, from Jerusalem and Rome to London as the center of a new English-speaking empire.  Much of the sectarian division within Protestant Christianity came down to fights over church governance - from bishops (the Anglican Communion) to elders (Presbyterianism) to the churchmembers, themselves, voting democratically (Congregationalism).  


In America, a lot of religious identity comes out of movements started over demographics or doctrinal fads.  New England Puritans (with their own version of Anglicanism) were so zealous of the franchise (as political governance was tied to church governance - tying suffrage to church membership) that Presbyterians and Baptist dissenters ended up moving to and founding Connecticut and Rhode Island.  German anabaptists, or just plain Baptists, ended up in New Jersey and being invited to join Quaker dissenters in Pennsylvania (the so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch" - because they were deutsch).  Quakerism represents an interesting twist on the declension of church governance as it went from royal appointment (the bishops) to Scottish locals (the Presbyterians) to local congregations (the Puritan Congregationalists).  What if even the congregation was too oppressive in its control over conscience?  The Quakers deferred to the "inner light" of conscience, which they considered on par with the Bible, itself.  


In the meantime, communities like the Methodists reached out to slaves and folks on the frontier.  As Virginia society was dominated by blueblood Anglicans (Episcopalians after the Revolution), the more common people were more open to the Methodist revivalists who rode the circuit and started churches where the Anglicans fell short.  As the Protestant Reformation reached its logical extreme, the battle lines changed.  Early Christians demonized the Jews.  Protestants demonized Catholics.  In America, Restorationists would eventually demonize the dominant religious establishment of Catholics and Protestant "big fish," like the Anglicans, Presbyterians and Methodists.  Their argument was that a "Great Apostasy" had occurred, with Christianity losing sight of its original message, largely because of some big mistake that had gotten passed on.  


The Seventh-Day Adventists went back to the Saturday sabbath.  The Church of Christ (Campbellites) sought to weed out all practices that couldn't find root in the New Testament.  The Mormons looked for an American prophet.  The Jehovah's Witnesses made a prophet out of Pastor Russell, whose idiosyncratic interpretations of the Old and New Testaments - including the importance of going back to the Biblical name for God as Jehovah - made them a very distinctive group.  The Amish famously repudiated modernity.  The Shakers not only followed their own prophet, Ann Lee (whom they viewed as the female Second Coming of Jesus) but got their name from their pre-Pentacostalist emphasis on charismatic worship.  Just in America, the 20th Century produced groups like the Christian Scientists (following Mary Baker Eddy's belief that sin and sickness are illusions), the Pentacostals (who believe in the gifts of the spirit, including tongues and faith healing) and Scientology (which is a self-help movement tied to the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard).


Successful religious movements are started by charismatic figures - like Moses, Jesus, Paul, Muhammad, Martin Luther, Joseph Smith, Pastor Russell, Mary Baker Eddy and L. Ron Hubbard - who ride the contemporary zeitgeist to become the face and name of that moment in time.  I don't know if the real Moses ever existed, or whether he was anything like the Moses found in the Old Testament (who dies in the last chapter of the fifth "Book of Moses") but even that Moses would not have been the only disenchanted Jew in Egypt.  He was the one credited for accomplishing Jewish independence.  The Jesus of the New Testament does not sound like a Jewish messiah so much as a voice for peace, a product of turbulent times, whose near-patriotic acceptance of Roman rule comes across as a model for all occupied peoples.  (Christianity seems like something the Romans would have taught to all conquered peoples.)  


Muhammad may be one of the first of these figures whose historical existence, as a real guy, is more likely than not, despite Muslim attempts to so cast him in in such reverence that the very mention of his name is commonly followed with "Peace be upon him."  What was Islam but a call for Arab unity?  Would Muhammad have even mattered if the Arabs had not become major players by tying the world together through trade?  While Arabia may be the armpit - if not butthole - of the planet, the three principles of real estate are location, location, location.  Arabia's central location - between Africa and Asia - gave Arab caravans a leg up in world trade.  These were the truckers of their time.  The poverty of Arabia as a farming region privileged the merchant class, whose import/export business allowed them to become conduits of trade between their far-flung neighbors.  Africa had salt, gold and furs.  India had cotton and teas.  China had silk, porcelain, gunpowder and citrus.  Europe had wheat and other grains.  


Arabs were getting rich.  They were going from being a third-rate bunch of neglected yahoos to becoming a mighty nation.  They were hungry for some dignity.  They didn't get it from Judaism, which wasn't making converts of them, nor were they getting it from Christianity, which would have represented a conversion to what had, by this time, become a Euro-centric community.  What did they do?  They grew their own.  Islam is Arabian culture, from its Arab founder (Muhammad), who finds an angel in a cave, to its Five Pillars, which include pilgrimmage to Mecca, fasting and alms to the poor.  Muhammad is credited as the prophet of Islam but it must have taken a whole community of Muslim clerics and scholars to have devised a full-blown civilization as Arab traders ventured further and further into villages and hamlets in Africa and Asia.  


Long before Christianity set off on its voyages of conquest, occupying and colonizing communities around the world, Muslim traders were doing the same thing, seducing and subverting local communities to bring them into the Muslim sphere of civilization.  The civil wars and wars of conquest that took place in West Africa are among many examples of Muslim imperialism, which had less to do with religion than with economic and political forces that continue today.  Whichever group is in ascendance will use that ascendance to build an empire.  What killed Muslim expansion, until the rise of oil, was the European end-run through naval ascendance.  While the Crusades were justified on religious grounds, the economic importance of this "first" world war was the lucrative nature of overland trade.  Europe's ascendance, because of better crop yields, greater unities in communication and culture, and "new" technology, made it a rival.  But Europe, for all its ascendance, was not up to a land war in Asia.  Losing the land war produced an era of trade, one that privileged Italian shippers.  But when fights over control of the Silk Road disrupted that trade, Europeans had to find other outlets.  


The Portuguese strategy of planting coastal colonies all around Africa, as they made their way to India, was a game-changer.  It spurred Spain to attempt a western route, leading to the discovery of the Americas, a source of gold and new crops that cut Arabs completely out of the loop.  What's more, additional efforts at naval exploration - such as Magellan's expedition around South America and on to East Asia - opened the door for a new age of naval expansion.  Within a century, Europe had navies that outstripped anything the Arabs had attempted.  In time, the Arab role was rendered irrelevant.  The Age of Exploration also coupled with the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution to give Europeans advantages that would make Islam irrelevant for the next 500 years.


It's funny, though, how Christianity has alternately been associated with dissent, empire, nationalism, democracy and whatever other worldview has spiked in its time.  It's impossible to keep a straight face while saying that Christianity inspired the dissenter status of the Christian martyrs, the imperial ambitions of the Roman Empire, the reconstructionist views of post-Empire Europe, the nationalism of the northern Protestants, the dissenting Puritanists of England, the American separation and the contradictory forces of the northern and southern sides of the American Civil War.  How is it that Christianity could have "inspired" the "white man's burden" of American imperialism while also inspiring the pacifism of Quaker conscientious objectors?


I would argue that Christianity has been less of an inspiration than a tool employed by a variety of ideologies.  It has been the familiar form in which such arguments were made within European and American society, just as Islam has been the language of Arab nationalists calling themselves Fundamentalists.  Religion is cultural food coloring.  Like the city of Bakersfield, there's "no there there."


It is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition for morality.

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