Friday, June 15, 2018

The monotheistic moral revolution

I think we don't understand, or take seriously, the moral revolution engendered by monotheism. Before the monotheistic religions came along, there were moral codes, but evolution gives us an interest in social cooperation but also makes us tribalistic. Moral codes require lots of social cooperation for "us" and nothing for "them." When people started believing in a deity who is interested in our moral lives as opposed to merely our sacrifices, things start changing. A God who values us equally because, in the case of Christianity, he sent his son to die for all of us, makes it hard to believe that anyone is just human garbage. It is true that Christians have historically failed to get it, and some even currently fail to get it, but logic of going from God's being interested in all of us equally, to people being of equal worth, is a real pathway to the idea of equal rights. I see nothing in the naturalistic universe that supports this kind of egalitarianism except that cultures have gradually evolved toward it, largely under the watch of Christianity, and we like the results and don't want to give that up, since it seems to work. But if some Nietzschean were to ask why we should continue to accept this kind of slave morality given the death of God, I don't see what the answer would be. 

3 comments:

Hugo Pelland said...

But we don't need an actual God figure, as in an independent mind and/or creator to realize that it's in our common human interest to have these shared values. We can even label them as objective in the sense that justice is justice, regardless of anyone's opinion, as long as we agree there is something called justice.

Oth, a single god can also be used to exclude those who don't share the views of that god's chosen ones. Using our common humanity as grounding principle yields a truly universal framework for morality and meaning. The fact that we're all consious human beings is way more powerful and consistent than the god concept, which has never been, and cannot, be defined objectively, unless it becomes meaningless and equates things like justice itself.

Starhopper said...

I recently finished re-reading Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (though not in that order), and was struck by two things:

1. The "gods" are forever at war with each other. And if not open warfare, then at 100% odds in what they desire for Mankind. There is no consensus on Olympus.

2. Their utter arbitrariness in their dealings with people.Hector dies, not because he has displeased the Gods (Indeed, Zeus positively loves him.) but rather because Hera is mad at Aphrodite. (Basically, the whole reason for the Trojan WAr in the first place.)

And one finds similar things in other mythologies of the Eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. Creation itself is often the result of a battle amongst the gods, as is the appearance of Mankind.

David Brightly said...

How to answer the Nietzschean? First get clear that his 'Why should we continue...?' is not in itself a moral question. His 'should' is not a moral 'ought'. In choosing some system of moral rules under which to live we are necessarily outside any particular system. That seems to leave us with the thought that the Nietzschean is asking what benefit it is to him to submit himself to a system of equal rights under the law. We could patiently explain that it would at the very least not put him at a disadvantage with respect to the rest of us. And that under something like our present system he would have plenty of scope to develop and enjoy whatever talents and resources he might possess. But if he still wants to set himself up as the Ubermensch he is welcome to try. History (and primate ethology) suggests he will come to a bad end. It's a practical answer to a practical question.