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Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith 
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
The anthropological perspective would seem to be that morality is entirely relative. That can be a true statement if we are able to divorce, in our minds, morality from virtue. But in fact I doubt we can, or at least I can't. I find myself wanting to change morality in the anthropological view to something different and neutral, such as mores, customs, or beliefs.


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Sat Aug 28, 2010 10:05 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
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Isn't it inevitable and isn't it correct to note the difference between the natural world and the supernatural? Don't we want to keep those things separate?


I do not know that I would say correct necessarily in keeping the supernatural and natural world separate. It may be inevitable. There can be beauty in living spiritually moment by moment. We probably could not live in a society where that is even an option, however. Individually we can make a choice to do that but we are always conscience of separating spirituality from daily life. I think that is necessary in a society where we are so diverse. We have to learn to live with many different people with different worldviews. It is always a challenge in America. I know that not everyone makes an effort to do that but more of us do than don’t.

Quote:
Another interesting observation made of the primitives' quasi-religions is the curious absence of a moral component. The primitive gods did not approve or disapprove of stealing, murder, adultery, etc., but were more concerned with protocol of rituals and sacrifice. The gods didn't get angry if you killed another member of your tribe, but would get angry if you didn't make your ritual fire a certain way. As Edward Tylor noted in 1874, the religions of "savage" societies were "almost devoid of that ethical element which to the educated modern mind is the very mainstream of practical religion."


I thought that that was very interesting also. But I think that Wright explains that really well. He says that in the tribe people had to be moral with each other. If they were not moral to each other everyone knew what was going on anyway. It reminds me of living in a small town. Everyone knows everyone’s business. Small towns are so fun. :P But I digress….

Outside of the tribe it was a different story. Someone else in this thread referenced that too. Other tribes were not even really people. It sounds like from that article that geo provided that Wright is going to argue that adding morality to religion was inevitable. We had to add it because we had to deal with our expanding communities. So far Wright has made some interesting points. I am looking forward to reading more.



Sat Aug 28, 2010 11:59 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
seespotrun2008 wrote:
Outside of the tribe it was a different story. Someone else in this thread referenced that too. Other tribes were not even really people. It sounds like from that article that geo provided that Wright is going to argue that adding morality to religion was inevitable. We had to add it because we had to deal with our expanding communities. So far Wright has made some interesting points. I am looking forward to reading more.

I believe that Wright does attribute the idea of brotherhood to a more practical need to trade with other nations and to incorporate conquered peoples into the society. The international accommodation to others then tends to reform the domestic situation, too. One of the good arguments we might have is whether Wright is correct that the moral circle expands only in response to "facts on the ground." Is there no room for idealism?


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Last edited by DWill on Sun Aug 29, 2010 7:20 am, edited 1 time in total.



Sun Aug 29, 2010 7:19 am
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
Saffron wrote:
we need to be careful about the use of the terms moral and ethic. It seems mostly we are using them as synonyms for each other. Wright does not define what he means by moral, but what else could he mean other than "a system of right and good conduct." How could he be anymore specific? As Oblivion has pointed out, we do not know the specifics of what was considered right behavior in early groups of humans. Part of the point of the book is the idea that morality, like the concept of God has eveloved over time to match the development of human thought and understanding and just maybe with this twin evolution our concept/understanding of the divine (this applies even if it turns out there is no divine) and morality gets nearer and nearer to truth. Indulge me a minute and I will try to illustrate my thinking and to hit on a comment made by DWill (As for primitive people not having a word for their religion, this to me may indicate almost a different phase of consciousness than exists when civilization appears. I don't see this as a desireable state. It's bit scary to me.) and maybe one made by Robert (vast bulk of human evolution occurred prior to the advent of civilization). Robert: I just want to check in on what did you mean when you used the word civilization in the comment I quoted above? I am assuming you were referring to an advanced level of society that includes agrigulture, towns/cities, trade across long distance, etc.
Saffron, you might recall in our discussion of Our Inner Ape by Franz de Waal, we looked at the continuity between human and animal morality. De Waal observes that bonobo apes display empathy and care, an apparent morality suited to their lives in a tropical paradise of abundance and ease. Humans separated from apes some eight million years ago. Much of our primitive clan-based ethical value system probably had strong continuity across our instinctive evolutionary heritage over ten million years or longer. This is one thousand times as long as the roughly ten thousand years of civilised life since the rise of settled agriculture. Wright cites love and generosity and honesty as ethical moral values that it appears were originally hardwired into clan life but which required threat of divine punishment to sustain them once humanity evolved from the original simple social structures.
Quote:
someone is missing from Wrights discussion! What happened to the goddess?
Good question! Wright has an agenda, to assert that God has evolved to become more moral. However, the emergence of patriarchy since neolithic times contradicts his argument. Overturning the primitive equality of the sexes created a more powerful society in which women were subordinated. The suppression of ancient female spirituality was one of the casualties of progress. Wright conveniently ignores this topic of sexism in religion that conflicts with his thesis.

This all reminds me of another gap in Wright's theory, his failure to compare the over-arching myths of progress and decline. On the one hand, science promotes an assumption of linear progress, with everything getting better. On the other hand, religions claim that humanity has fallen from grace into a state of corruption. These two models are in conflict, and it seems that Wright just assumes the truth of the linear progress model.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
Robert Tulip wrote:
Wright cites love and generosity and honesty as ethical moral values that it appears were originally hardwired into clan life but which required threat of divine punishment to sustain them once humanity evolved from the original simple social structures.

I wonder if we're quite justified in assuming that in the simplest societies, the baseline was that love, honesty, and generosity prevailed. These are people, after all. Surely there was a great variety in the degree to which clan society was characterized by these virtues. The capacity for love, etc. is an inheritance, but its full expression is not a given. There was never a self-sustaining moral society. I think there would always be an effort to sustain and encourage morality by some means or other, whether we're talking about a simple or a complex society. The need in a complex society would probably be greater. I also don't think that a divine commandment to be virtuous necessarily is about punishment. It can be about "this is who we are as a people."
Quote:
Wright has an agenda, to assert that God has evolved to become more moral. However, the emergence of patriarchy since neolithic times contradicts his argument. Overturning the primitive equality of the sexes created a more powerful society in which women were subordinated. The suppression of ancient female spirituality was one of the casualties of progress. Wright conveniently ignores this topic of sexism in religion that conflicts with his thesis.

I'm not up on the primitive equality of the sexes, or on how much fertility worship actually translated to better lives for women vs. for men. You can point out moral progress, though, even though you might not be able to say that on some measures, progress was lacking. Wright just means to point out that the circle of morality has broadened, though it occurs is such fits and starts that sometimes you doubt it's there. Equality of the sexes has been the area of slowest progress, for the hopelessly patriarchal major religions of the world.
Quote:
This all reminds me of another gap in Wright's theory, his failure to compare the over-arching myths of progress and decline. On the one hand, science promotes an assumption of linear progress, with everything getting better. On the other hand, religions claim that humanity has fallen from grace into a state of corruption. These two models are in conflict, and it seems that Wright just assumes the truth of the linear progress model.

You might be correct, but perhaps he can only handle so much in one book!


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
DWill wrote:
The anthropological perspective would seem to be that morality is entirely relative. That can be a true statement if we are able to divorce, in our minds, morality from virtue. But in fact I doubt we can, or at least I can't. I find myself wanting to change morality in the anthropological view to something different and neutral, such as mores, customs, or beliefs.


DWill, if you are referring to my post, I wasn't meaning to suggest that morality was relative and I can't really speak for the anthropoloical perspective anyway. I was trying to get at the idea that morality developed along side of human thought. Just as you would not say an animal was immoral, I don't think you can say that early humans were immoral until a significant level of understanding is achieved. When I wrote that post I had de Waal, the primatoligist, in mind.


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
Saffron wrote:
DWill wrote:
The anthropological perspective would seem to be that morality is entirely relative. That can be a true statement if we are able to divorce, in our minds, morality from virtue. But in fact I doubt we can, or at least I can't. I find myself wanting to change morality in the anthropological view to something different and neutral, such as mores, customs, or beliefs.


DWill, if you are referring to my post, I wasn't meaning to suggest that morality was relative and I can't really speak for the anthropoloical perspective anyway. I was trying to get at the idea that morality developed along side of human thought. Just as you would not say an animal was immoral, I don't think you can say that early humans were immoral until a significant level of understanding is achieved. When I wrote that post I had de Waal, the primatoligist, in mind.

Saffron, I wasn't referring to your post in the sense that I thought you were trying to excuse whatever cultural practice as moral in its own context. There is simply a limitation to any culture of the past that we will pick out retrospectively (perhaps while being quite blind to our own problems). I do wonder about the growth of human thought. Robert has reminded us that in terms of neural complexity, our brains wouldn't seem to be any different than they are today. So growth in human thought would seem to be empowered entirely by culture. The problem is that there is no uniform advance that we can identify in culture. This might be picking on cultures, but traditions of rape in African countries and of female genital mutilation in some Muslim countries, might make one think that human thought shows no general advance and that we're never very far from descent to a very low level.


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
DWill wrote:
Saffron wrote:
DWill wrote:
The anthropological perspective would seem to be that morality is entirely relative. That can be a true statement if we are able to divorce, in our minds, morality from virtue. But in fact I doubt we can, or at least I can't. I find myself wanting to change morality in the anthropological view to something different and neutral, such as mores, customs, or beliefs.


DWill, if you are referring to my post, I wasn't meaning to suggest that morality was relative and I can't really speak for the anthropoloical perspective anyway. I was trying to get at the idea that morality developed along side of human thought. Just as you would not say an animal was immoral, I don't think you can say that early humans were immoral until a significant level of understanding is achieved. When I wrote that post I had de Waal, the primatoligist, in mind.

Saffron, I wasn't referring to your post in the sense that I thought you were trying to excuse whatever cultural practice as moral in its own context. There is simply a limitation to any culture of the past that we will pick out retrospectively (perhaps while being quite blind to our own problems). I do wonder about the growth of human thought. Robert has reminded us that in terms of neural complexity, our brains wouldn't seem to be any different than they are today. So growth in human thought would seem to be empowered entirely by culture. The problem is that there is no uniform advance that we can identify in culture. This might be picking on cultures, but traditions of rape in African countries and of female genital mutilation in some Muslim countries, might make one think that human thought shows no general advance and that we're never very far from descent to a very low level.


I actually agree with what you have posted. I was thinking further back in history than modern human beings -- as we were becoming humans. As I think back over my posts I was not really very clear about the progression I was meaning to show. The only area I think we have progress is our scientific understanding of the world. And it seems to me many of us can't figure out to do with what we do know about the universe, the earth, ourselves, etc... Some days it almost seems useless to us (all of humanity) to have any scientific understanding of the world.

Ooops, I better run -- you can guess where I am and by the time stamp on my post what I need to be doing!


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
DWill wrote:
I don't have my copy of the book yet, but it must be in this chapter, or maybe in a preface that we don't have listed, that Wright makes a distinction that struck me as important. He says that both religious zealots and opponents of religion make the mistake of thinking that a religion is what its leaders and scriptures say it is. Wright says that it doesn't work this way, sociologically. A religion isn't controlled in this way but is always evolving; it can only be defined by its characteristics at any given time, and these might actually contradict the word of authorities and scriptures, or at least ignore them.

That's why it might not be so important what the Bible really says. We all know about the distasteful stuff in it. Just because it is there places no demand on a Christian to believe it or take responsibility for it. A Christian can probably "believe in" just a minor part of the Bible and still feel okay about calling himself a Christian. This would apply to Muslims and Jews, too.


A few comments here: There is a great difference between Christians, Jews and Muslims. You are a Jew by birth. That is true in close to 100% of the Jews that have ever lived. It is possible to convert to Judaism but you are never quote there. There is also a distinction to Jews who consider Judaism to be a religion and those who consider it a tradition, or an ethnicity. For those who consider it a religion there are approximately 600 laws they are required to obey and an elaborate sacrificial systems to partipate in. The problem is that the sacrifices can only be made at the Temple in Jerusalem and it was destroyed in 70AD. Jews of tradition pick and choose what they observe. Basically, you are a Jew by birth is the point.

Muslims have a rigid code to observe in the form of the Five Pillars of Islam:
Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad;
Establishment of the daily prayers;
Concern for and almsgiving to the needy;
Self-purification through fasting; and
The pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able

none of these are optional.

Christians, while an offshoot of Judaism have a very different structure and within Christianity there is a wide variation of devotion to the Bible and interpretation of the practice of Christianity. For some there are sacriments to be performed, for others there is nothing necessary beyond affirmation.


Dwill wrote:
We might have an opinion about the intellectual honesty of the attitude I've described. But we have to take into account the cultural significance of religion to many people. It's more about the shared customs and sense of community than it is about the beliefs, in my view.


It isn't a matter of honesty it is a matter of simplicity. Christianity is, at its heart, uncomplicated.

DWill wrote:
I do support requiring that people know what they're talking about, though. If they're going to claim the Bible as a moral authority, they should be knowledgeable about it, or at least they should admit that they don't know it in detail.


Should the same requirement be imposed on people who criticize the Bible?


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
stahrwe wrote:
Christianity is, at its heart, uncomplicated.
This vision of simple faith breaks down under analysis. Simple faith is sufficient for simple people, but not for our modern complicated world. For faith to be relevant it has to engage with complexity by providing answers that are compatible with reality. Wright's analysis of how religion has evolved to match observation is a story of steadily growing complexity, from animism to polytheism to monotheism, with each stage subsuming the previous concepts into a higher synthesis.



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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
Robert Tulip wrote:
stahrwe wrote:
Christianity is, at its heart, uncomplicated.
This vision of simple faith breaks down under analysis. Simple faith is sufficient for simple people, but not for our modern complicated world. For faith to be relevant it has to engage with complexity by providing answers that are compatible with reality. Wright's analysis of how religion has evolved to match observation is a story of steadily growing complexity, from animism to polytheism to monotheism, with each stage subsuming the previous concepts into a higher synthesis.

I don't know, Robert: from a zillion gods and ways to service them to one god or God could be seen as a grand simplification.


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Thu Sep 02, 2010 9:26 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
stahrwe wrote:
A few comments here: There is a great difference between Christians, Jews and Muslims. You are a Jew by birth. That is true in close to 100% of the Jews that have ever lived. It is possible to convert to Judaism but you are never quote there. There is also a distinction to Jews who consider Judaism to be a religion and those who consider it a tradition, or an ethnicity. For those who consider it a religion there are approximately 600 laws they are required to obey and an elaborate sacrificial systems to partipate in. The problem is that the sacrifices can only be made at the Temple in Jerusalem and it was destroyed in 70AD. Jews of tradition pick and choose what they observe. Basically, you are a Jew by birth is the point.

Muslims have a rigid code to observe in the form of the Five Pillars of Islam:
Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad;
Establishment of the daily prayers;
Concern for and almsgiving to the needy;
Self-purification through fasting; and
The pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able

none of these are optional.

Why sure they can be optional, with regard to both Judaism and Islam. Why can't they be? Is the claim of identity subject to stringent rules, as if it could be ruled fraudulent?

Quote:
Christians, while an offshoot of Judaism have a very different structure and within Christianity there is a wide variation of devotion to the Bible and interpretation of the practice of Christianity. For some there are sacriments to be performed, for others there is nothing necessary beyond affirmation.

This appears to be descriptively accurate. I suspect, though, that it doesn't represent your private belief.

Stahrwe wrote:
DWill wrote:
I do support requiring that people know what they're talking about, though. If they're going to claim the Bible as a moral authority, they should be knowledgeable about it, or at least they should admit that they don't know it in detail.


Should the same requirement be imposed on people who criticize the Bible?

Yes, when global judgments are made. But valid criticisms of aspects of anything can be made without one having to be judged an expert.


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
Geo wrote:
Another interesting observation made of the primitives' quasi-religions is the curious absence of a moral component.


I found this interesting too. And if Wright is arguing (or will argue in later chapters) that one day a worldwide religion will arise that no longer attempts to provide nonsense answers to the origin of the universe and mankind (because it can't), but will merely be a religion that guides humanity on how to act morally...I would direct him back to Chapter 1 where he showed us that people can do just fine without religion. People have behaved ethically throughout history with or without religion so we don't need a worldwide religion to keep us from slaughtering each other.

I may be jumping the gun here. Hopefully Wright is not arguing FOR a worldwide religion that keeps us moral and good. Perhaps Wright is simply drawing our attention to the inevitable evolution of the concept of God and not interjecting his opinion on what should or should not happen, but merely sharing his opinion of what probably will happen (if we don't destroy our species beforehand).


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
Robert Tulip wrote:
On Wright's theory, primitive religion is about explaining events in nature, rather than providing a universal moral code.


So we thrived once without gods involved with morality can we do it again?

Notice how lots of us immediately found it fascinating that early religion wasn't involved with morality. What if the entire world could be in on this little secret that religion doesn't have a monopoly on morality? So religion has failed at answering the big questions that pertain to how nature operates and now we're suddenly realizing that religion isn't even necessary for people to behave morally.

Yes, I am aware that all of us here understand that religious belief isn't necessary for a person to be good, but out in society I hear it argued all the time that without God this world would be a scary and dangerous place.


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Post Re: Ch. 1 - The Primordial Faith
Chris OConnor wrote:
Geo wrote:
Another interesting observation made of the primitives' quasi-religions is the curious absence of a moral component.


I found this interesting too. And if Wright is arguing (or will argue in later chapters) that one day a worldwide religion will arise that no longer attempts to provide nonsense answers to the origin of the universe and mankind (because it can't), but will merely be a religion that guides humanity on how to act morally...I would direct him back to Chapter 1 where he showed us that people can do just fine without religion. People have behaved ethically throughout history with or without religion so we don't need a worldwide religion to keep us from slaughtering each other.

If Wright's generalization about h-g groups providing their own morality, independent of the gods that controlled nature, is true, then we did in a sense at least, get along fine without religious morality. What makes me a little leery is thinking that the h-g morality would have been morality as we know it. It might not have been; it probably wasn't, in fact, since inevitably beliefs about the gods could create religious practices such as human sacrifice that are immoral for us. The most I can confidently say about h-g morality is that it helped enable humans to survive.

There are really two kinds of morality. One is the type Frans Dewaal talks about, on the level of interpersonal (or
inter-simian) relations. He tells us that empathy, the quality that makes us care about acting in consideration of others, is our genetic, selected inheritance. The other kind is on the level of social standards or group practice and becomes established through some type of evaluative institution in the society, however simple it may be. Wright says, and I think I would agree, that this evaluation was for a long while the province of religion. Still the result might not be what we would now call morality, might in fact be an obstacle to morality (such as killing non-believers). So the only point I'm relatively sure of is that institutional strength is important for morality type 2 to also remain strong. But that in itself is not sufficient for a satisfactory type 2 morality (as we can see with Nazism). I'm not sure where the trail goes from here.
Quote:
I may be jumping the gun here. Hopefully Wright is not arguing FOR a worldwide religion that keeps us moral and good. Perhaps Wright is simply drawing our attention to the inevitable evolution of the concept of God and not interjecting his opinion on what should or should not happen, but merely sharing his opinion of what probably will happen (if we don't destroy our species beforehand).

That question I'm sure will occupy us as we get into the later parts of the book.


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Sun Sep 19, 2010 10:24 pm
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