My comment was prompted by a sense that the feedback loop you refer to is one that is well worth studying. There must be vitally important mechanisms at work in the social interactions that make it operate.
People have a pretty good idea that religion doesn't operate by coercion. Maybe once the church could get the authorities to burn heretics, but their main threats were things like excommunication and refusing to bury you in the churchyard. Social enforcements, closer to the Amish "shunning" than to imprisoning someone.
That means the mechanisms of church politics were a lot like the later "social contract" approach that became democracy. Yet there was, is and probably will continue to be a drift toward supernatural claims about the nature of that social contract. A fascinating phenomenon.
Actually a lot of it operates below the level of conscious acknowledgement. I can't tell you how often the metaphors about Jesus calming the storm or even calling Peter to get out of the boat have been applied by people I know to their own life. Ask them point blank if they believe the story really happened as told, and many of them would stammer that they do. But the pull of its symbolic meaning is irresistible.
Yes, I think you have identified some of the forces at work. A demand for clearly demarcating truth from error (even though there are 1000 other groups with different but equally firmly held "truths") is one. Exclusivity is strongly tied to that need for the security of absolute claims, as is the tribalist impulse in communities, to combine against outsiders.
Indeed! What a powerful observation! Since mystery-Jesus, settling matters on our behalf in the Big House, is no longer in our face demanding that we repent (metanoia - change of heart or of mind) he becomes a strangely inert Christ. St. Francis seems like more of an inspiration, oddly enough. It never occurred to me that this could be because St. Francis's story was not about the miracles.
Also in resurrection. The resurrection was the ultimate transformation, and gives reconciling power to the cross that is not there without it. The point that his Passion is continuous with his life of love and service is mostly recognized by all branches of Western theology now, but often ignored by the Calvinist-rooted denominations that dominate American Protestantism.
Crossan and Borg and the Jesus Seminar have actually made great strides in re-integrating biblical "good news" with a focus on social transformation. By providing some narratives about the meaning of the Passion that don't depend on Hell, judgment and transactional spiritual accounting, they (and many others) have really freed up a healthy consciousness that connects social transformation (inescapable in the New Testament, even if it doesn't fit our image of firebrand rhetoric from the Enlightenment) with inner, personal transformation.
Here's where I really disagree. "Beliefs" are an artificial structure, created over millennia, but they cannot undermine orthopraxis. What eventually dawns on the community of scholars is that the supernatural narratives were operating at the level of expression about what people find meaningful even if they used Bronze Age symbolic representations of it. We need a term for "right values" to correspond with "right doctrines" and "right practice."
Yes, when you know that the significance of a story does not depend on whether it is true or not, then you understand how mythos works. It could be true, but it doesn't really matter if it is or not. Literalists cannot wrap their mind around that. If the founders of the American Republic did not really believe in equality before the law and protection from majoritarian overreach, then their courage and vision are somehow nullified for a literalist.
I agree with your observation, but there is a whole stratum of meaning-making that underlies all this demand for clarity and exclusive truth claims. It tends to be invisible to outsiders, but I have seen many, many examples of literalists struggling with the personal implications of the symbolic side, as they are supposed to do. The story of the Prodigal Son is quite literally as powerful in the (Protestant, Evangelical) Christian process as the story of "he died in my place." Not in dogma, but in spiritual engagement.
I disagree here. I am not suggesting a decoupling of moral reasoning from existential issues, but rather a subordination of the latter to the former. Moral inquiry is about the right way to live, and it would be highly artificial to exclude issues of survival, including survival of the species or of civilization, from that set of questions. But to subordinate the issue of the right way to live to issues of species survival or cultural survival would be artificial in the sense of pre-judging the right way to live. Just as one can think of circumstances in which the right way to live might call for choosing one's own death, the possibility of, say, risking species survival might sometimes make sense. It all depends.
Not necessarily. The gene pool might be much better for humanity if there is less urge to be "better than" someone else and more urge to jointly maximize our success. These "gene pool" arguments always try to hide the actual choices being made into the black box of "fitness" without being willing to engage what we mean by fitness and whether that matches with good criteria.
Well, I am actually not all that familiar with Aristotle, but after reading the Wiki article it seems to confirm my impression about this landmark in the field, namely that what defines "good" is either directly what is good for others (a good friend, a good leader) or indirectly about what internal qualities of character lead to capacity for benefiting the community.
I think a dichotomy between social and individualist conceptions of morality would be quite confused - neither domain can be neglected as "morality" is clearly situated in the intersection between the two. "Excellence" or "character" as well.
It isn't too surprising that a thousand years of coopting Christianity into a tool for pacification of the subject peoples would result in a framework without moral coherence or meaningful inspiration. I like your conclusion about the dynamism created by inspiration.
Well said. I prefer to think that liberalism is based in a suspicion of claims to superiority, since these will naturally lead to claims to legitimacy of greater power.
When Sheldon Adelson can become a wielder of power by successfully navigating the mafia-infested waters of casino ownership, anyone with a conscience should be on alert against claims of rightness for the power of the rich. That doesn't mean we should ignore the correlation between fitness and success, only that we should be alert to the ease with which its recognition becomes a poisonous pattern for exploitation by the unscrupulous.