Sunday School

Sunday School July 29th 2018

This topic contains 22 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Simon Paynton 5 years, 9 months ago.

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    Firstly I wish to correct a mistake from last week when I wrote that another Catholic priest was arrested in Chile for child sexual abuse. This was not correct and I do apologize. It should have read 158 people so far. Cardinal McCarrick is gone too.

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    Have a great week everyone!!

    Religion comes from the period of human prehistory where nobody—not even the mighty Democritus who concluded that all matter was made from atoms—had the smallest idea what was going on. It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species, and is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge (as well as for comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs). Today the least educated of my children knows much more about the natural order than any of the founders of religion.

    – Christopher Hitchens


    Simon Paynton

    Religion does not determine your morality and even God agrees.

    – “Basically, people take or leave religious morality according to some internal moral compass they already have.

    – this implies that at least, the religions are rich in valid moral teaching.  This is because, probably the predominant ethical compass in the population (if it follows a bell curve) is the prosocial cooperative one.


    I am not so sure about religions being a rich source of moral teaching. They seem to have plenty of dogmatic rules on how we should behave and these are usually preached as absolute that must be obeyed. No thinking is required on the followers behalf. The churches generally change their rules a few generations later to catch up with the ethics of the modern world in order to have some semblance of relevance remain.

    The problem for the Church – or religion in general – is that the whole world can now have shared debates about any ethical topic or the value of any moral teaching just as easily as this blog we are now writing can. Religion was powerful at the local level for centuries but now we are all connected. For example, we are also having a discussion on abortion on AZ which anyone, anywhere can contribute to or just read. Google killed God with information as do blogs and discussion groups which allow individuals join in a global conversation.

    See also the links above about Trinidad & then the Bible.


    Simon Paynton

    I think that logic shows that religious teachings are mostly prosocial.  If it is true that most people resonate with their own moral compass within the religions, and we know that most people are mostly cooperative, then it follows that religious teachings are mostly cooperative.  But cooperation has its dark sides.


    Simon Paynton

    You could say that the internet enables populations to become “switched on” and enlightened by rational debate, but just as much, religion benefits from the communications revolution.



    Thanks, Reg!



    Simon, when you have a 2000 page book with 500 laws and far far more alegorical ethical lessons, then yes, you will find praiseworthy moral principles. It would be pretty hard not to. If you visited Stalinist Soviet Union, amongst the many horrors and terror, the majority of law and order were, for the most part, pretty standard in the Western world…including neighbourly civility and village cooperation. That doesn’t mean that Stalinist Soviet Union or the Bible offers some unique and “rich” interpretation of such morals. Most have been around since civilization started, most of it is elementary reasoanble rational obviousness that any sane and moderately-intelligent person can work out. Only, you still have to week out the equal amount of toxic, dangerous, racist, homophobic, violent, body-shaming garbage in there. And so…I don’t know how anyone could call ethical lessons in the bible as “rich” when you can find intelligently discussed moral lessons explained through reason, not a commandment someone made up and attributed to a God that you must obey…and you don’t have to deal with the toxic nasty crap. They offer some old folk wisdom that came before, moral lessons we all already know and a mountain of steaming crap. Why would you bother weeding through that when you can get all the “good stuff” in sources that explain and explore them rationally, including a lot MORE of the good stuff…and very little of the toxic stinking stuff? Why care about the “moral richness of the Bible” when the same person wouldn’t consider consulting the “moral richness of Soviet Russia”? It’s the same absurd thing.


    Simon Paynton

    If good people are finding their moral compasses in there then there must be a good moral compass in there.

    you can get all the “good stuff” in sources that explain and explore them rationally, including a lot MORE of the good stuff…and very little of the toxic stinking stuff?

    – what are these other sources of which you speak?


    Where do the Chinese who make up 20% of the world’s population get their “moral code” from?


    Daniel W.

    @Reg, While I’m certainly no expert, I’ve been married for 21 years to someone who grew up during the cultural revolution  in China.  I’ve been there many times, and I’ve read a number of history books about China and Chinese society.   I can say with some confidence, that people in China do have a moral code, but it’s not necessarily the same as the Christian code.  I suppose you would have to go through item by item in whatever it is that we consider the Western moral code.  In general, we are much more individualistic, regard individual rights as paramount, whereas in China, smooth running of society is more important, with less emphasis on individuality.  As for the biggie, sexual mores, I’ve seen a lot of social tolerance for infidelity, either by having affairs, and more than that, going to sex workers, for men.  Women have much more constricted expectations.  In contrast, adultery is a big, big no-no in Christianity, even though a lot of people do it, and seeing sex workers is more demonized here.  As for homosexuality, in China it seems pretty much laughed at, but is not considered the abomination worthy of death and social pariah-hood, that it is here.  In China, racism seems pretty rampant, and people don’t seem to think that is a bad thing, unlike the West where racism is rampant, but many people judge that as wrong, or at least something they know better than to talk about except among friends, family, and in-groups.  Until recently.  In our racism, of course, we think Caucasians are great, whereas in Chinese racism, they think Chinese people are great.

    Much of the development of Chinese morals came from Confucianism, which emphasized the importance of conformity, social good, respect for authority, and familial prosperity and functioning.  There were elements from Taoism and Buddhism and a pantheon of gods, too.  This was distorted by Maoism and the communist takeover, profound poverty and destruction of the social fabric, now being rebuilt on new authoritarian and corporate models.

    Interestingly, among Chinese people who I have encountered, despite the high degree of surface conformity, as individuals many seem to have the attitude of every person for themselves; that rules are made for breaking as long as you don’t get caught; and that someone who does something like volunteering, is kind of weird, maybe even mentally ill, and not to be respected for actually working without getting paid for it.  We tend to have more respect for people who volunteer.

    Naturally, when we look at a diverse and regionally vast society, each of us is like the 9 blind men looking at the elephant, with each observing based on what they feel – one feels the leg, and thinks the elephant is like a tree, one feels the tail and thinks the elephant is like a rope, One feels the ear, and thinks the elephant is like a fan, etc.  China is a huge country, with significant regional and social variability.

    Of course there’s also India, which is similar in size to China, but much of India moral code grew out of Hindu and other nonChristian traditions too.  I don’t know a lot about that.

    So I would say that in China (or any other country that developed in complete absence of Abrahamic religion), there ARE social mores, and some parallel those of us in the Christian influenced West, but they are not the same and there are many variations.  comparing the 2 systems, there are different emphases, different things are considered important, and there are different implications to not meeting the moral codes of the two systems.



    @danielw That, my friend, was a magnificent post.


    Thanks for that reply Daniel. Just to clarify, my question was to demonstrate that 20% of the world has had a successful and thriving society for millennia, even before the invention of the Christian god. If you include India then we are circa 40% of the population of the Earth.  It is a question I ask all theists who suggest that in order to have a moral code one must be a Christian (or a Muslim).

    When they tell me that atheists have no moral code because they “reject” Jesus I will ask them “why do you consider the Chinese to be immoral”? When they say they don’t I will reply “But they are atheists when it comes to your god just like I am and you just told me atheists cannot be moral without believing in Jesus and accepting his commandments”.

    If I make the same case but with a billion Hindus instead they will often say something like “but at least they believe in something”. I reply – “Yes, they believe in many gods but they are atheists when it comes to your god, so where do their get their morals from?”

    This forces them to contradict themselves as I try to get them to understand that the majority of the people on the planet are atheists when it comes to their particular god. It also forces them to reappraise what they understand the term “atheist” to mean.

    It is a useful argument to introduce when they talk about the “absolute morality of the Bible” (or Koran).

    I would be more familiar with Indian culture as I am related to quite a few “atheist Hindus”. Once, it is said, that Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization. He replied “I think it would be a good idea” 🙂


    Simon Paynton

    Thanks for that @danielw.  It’s interesting how the Patriarchy appears in the different cultures, and that in ours, infidelity and homosexuality are condemned while they are not so much in China.

    I think it was Jesus and St Paul who introduced these to Christianity, as a way of “purifying” Christianity compared with the secular society around it, and making it more “purely” about one man-one woman married relationships, the archetypal human baby-making unit.

    I’ve also read that in some societies, e.g. China, there is a smaller “circle of concern” or how much strangeness we are prepared to tolerate in strangers and still recognise them as people.  I’m not sure what affects this, but I think that the level of overall trust in society has a lot to do with it.  Also, it is found that mixing with outsiders makes a society more altruistic in general.


    Simon Paynton

    If in China, rules are made to be broken, as long as you don’t get caught – under the Abrahamic religions, “God is watching your every move”.

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