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Subject: Never judge a religion (or lack thereof) by its people rss

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Moshe Callen
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A topic came up on another forum, and in my answer to someone there I made reference to something I think would make an excellent RSP topic. Namely as much as I as a Jew might wish to claim that somehow religious Jews are on the whole better people than anyone else you might care to name, that simply is not the case. We're not worse than anyone else you'd care to name either. Indeed barring pathological cases like Naziism or Wahabiism, I don't think that any (non-)religious or ideological group can really claim to be composed of better or worse people than any other such group. Now this to me might seem a stronger claim against religions than any other I've seen the usual critics of religions make. If religions are a means of striving to be a better person, then clearly they're failing.

Now I'm not convinced that such is the point of religions, but many people are-- especially amongst the religious themselves. I could link to many a shiur or Torah lesson which purports exactly that, namely that Judaism is a means for a person to strive to be better as a human being. Now supposing that it is the purpose, many will not really bother to try and others will get warped ideas about what "better" means.

Yet if one looks at the world as a whole, it is better now than it was a millennium ago or tow millennia and so forth. If I said to a person in any random ancient culture that slavery was morally wrong, they'd have thought me mad. Slowly over time, people are making this world a better place whether they use religions as a motivation for themselves or not.

Religions or equivalently philosophies are IMO an expression of the basic human need to make life more meaningful than eating, sleeping, and screwing until we eventually die.
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I disagree with your premise.

Overall I think religion helps people become better people and therefore benefits society as a whole in the long run.

Certainly you can find examples (by human standards) of good and bad people both in and out of religion. You can even find examples of good and bad groups within and without of religion.

However on both a wholistic individual basis and on a meta-basis the average behaviors of those who internalize religious values/morals tend to produce people who behave better in terms of what even secular society as whole values than those who don't internalize those values.

We can debate the hows and whys, but in the end one of the key factors is that religion tends to focus people on internal growth but toward an external ideal. In short it inspires them to work on being less self absorbed and gives them tools to be effective in those efforts.



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Meerkat;

That's not unique to religions though. Secular humanism also drives people to be better.
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I got a little confused there, your thread title and your post don't seem to correspond. Because I had to rework my post, it might be a little fragmented, sorry.



The issue is that people can use a group affiliation (I'd entirely agree that it's not specific to religion) to meet some pretty dark needs, and some affiliations feed specifically on that.

To that end, we *can* judge certain things about group identities, or movements within group identities- watching for granularity and the tendency to overgeneralize - based on the people that identify with them.

Does any movement, barring the very worst of them, make people better or worse? Probably not - at the very worst it can have a maladaptive positive reinforcement pattern with some beliefs.

Can we make an inference that some groups draw people with negative mental traits to identify with them? Absolutely.
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Better by what standard?

That standard is key...
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Jythier wrote:
Better by what standard?

That standard is key...
Any of these that can produce 'tasty Wahabi peas' couldn't "B" THAT "all bad". whistle
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Meerkat wrote:

I disagree with your premise.

Overall I think religion helps people become better people and therefore benefits society as a whole in the long run.

Certainly you can find examples (by human standards) of good and bad people both in and out of religion. You can even find examples of good and bad groups within and without of religion.

However on both a wholistic individual basis and on a meta-basis the average behaviors of those who internalize religious values/morals tend to produce people who behave better in terms of what even secular society as whole values than those who don't internalize those values.

We can debate the hows and whys, but in the end one of the key factors is that religion tends to focus people on internal growth but toward an external ideal. In short it inspires them to work on being less self absorbed and gives them tools to be effective in those efforts.





you just took that out of thin air didn't you? That's in line with the research then:



http://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(15)01167-...

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/06/religious-chil...


Highlights


•Family religious identification decreases children’s altruistic behaviors
•Religiousness predicts parent-reported child sensitivity to injustices and empathy
•Children from religious households are harsher in their punitive tendencies



Summary

Prosocial behaviors are ubiquitous across societies. They emerge early in ontogeny [ 1 ] and are shaped by interactions between genes and culture [ 2, 3 ]. Over the course of middle childhood, sharing approaches equality in distribution [ 4 ]. Since 5.8 billion humans, representing 84% of the worldwide population, identify as religious [ 5 ], religion is arguably one prevalent facet of culture that influences the development and expression of prosociality. While it is generally accepted that religion contours people’s moral judgments and prosocial behavior, the relation between religiosity and morality is a contentious one. Here, we assessed altruism and third-party evaluation of scenarios depicting interpersonal harm in 1,170 children aged between 5 and 12 years in six countries (Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey, USA, and South Africa), the religiousness of their household, and parent-reported child empathy and sensitivity to justice. Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than non-religious parents. However, religiousness was inversely predictive of children’s altruism and positively correlated with their punitive tendencies. Together these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism, challenging the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior.
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windsagio wrote:
I got a little confused there, your thread title and your post don't seem to correspond.

Yeah, I'll admit that like you, I was expecting an argument along the lines of "The actions/behaviors/&c of a religious group are not a valid rubric for judging the value/virtue of a religion". Which you'd expect to take the form of "These sub-par people don't discredit X religious beliefs" or "These excellent people don't mean Y religious beliefs are good." But Moshe is making the argument that it's an invalid rubric, just from the unexpected position of "People of X and Y religious beliefs show no statistically significant differences from everyone else, but that doesn't mean X and Y have no value."

I'm unconvinced that I agree, but I don't feel terribly strongly about it so I'm disinclined to argue the point.

Jythier wrote:
Better by what standard?

That standard is key...

Indeed. And proving anything about such standards is almost impossible, as either they are nebulous "Who's just, y'know, BETTER.", or they are difficult to measure "Who is more moral?", or when they are both well-defined and measurable, they might be correlation over causation. (e.g. Jesuits, Jews, Atheists having higher education than other groups.)

EDIT: As I see from the ninja post above, "who is more moral" can be tested for specific things one might find moral (such as altruism), but certainly morality itself is all based on varying standards, and a very religious view of morality might prize "Following this thing I believe god wants" over any sort of moral good here on earth such as altruism or helping your fellow humans.
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windsagio wrote:
I got a little confused there, your thread title and your post don't seem to correspond.
Why not?
Quote:
Because I had to rework my post, it might be a little fragmented, sorry.



The issue is that people can use a group affiliation (I'd entirely agree that it's not specific to religion) to meet some pretty dark needs, and some affiliations feed specifically on that.

To that end, we *can* judge certain things about group identities, or movements within group identities- watching for granularity and the tendency to overgeneralize - based on the people that identify with them.

Does any movement, barring the very worst of them, make people better or worse? Probably not - at the very worst it can have a maladaptive positive reinforcement pattern with some beliefs.

Can we make an inference that some groups draw people with negative mental traits to identify with them? Absolutely.

Sure. Some groups are pathological and hence my statement to exclude the pathological cases.
 
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Osirus wrote:
…But Moshe is making the argument that it's an invalid rubric, just from the unexpected position of "People of X and Y religious beliefs show no statistically significant differences from everyone else, but that doesn't mean X and Y have no value."

I'm unconvinced that I agree, but I don't feel terribly strongly about it so I'm disinclined to argue the point.…

That is indeed the argument I'm making. Jythier does correctly point out that one needs a standard to judge by but as humans I think we must judge by human standards. Naturally those will vary but I think a good approximation are the ethics that virtually all human societies agree on.
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whac3 wrote:
Meerkat;

That's not unique to religions though. Secular humanism also drives people to be better.
I would tend to agree, with the caveat.

Better by our standards.

Yes I think that we do live in a world that is more free, has better living conditions and is fairer then at any time in our history. But then we must not forget that many forms of secualr governance are in fact a form of religion (such as the cult of personality), it may also be no accident such places tend to be rather unsavory places.
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whac3 wrote:
Jythier does correctly point out that one needs a standard to judge by but as humans I think we must judge by human standards. Naturally those will vary but I think a good approximation are the ethics that virtually all human societies agree on.

As I allude to above, I think if we're judging by "human standards", we would find the hyper-religious -- who would put god's word above showing humanity to fellow humans -- immoral. I imagine most very religious people would disagree with this assessment, which makes me think finding those ethics that virtually all human societies agree on might be non-trivial. (One might suspect murder is a low-hanging fruit, but one persons justwar/freedomfight/deathpenalty/necessarypoliceaction/etc. is another person's murder.)

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Osirus wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Jythier does correctly point out that one needs a standard to judge by but as humans I think we must judge by human standards. Naturally those will vary but I think a good approximation are the ethics that virtually all human societies agree on.

As I allude to above, I think if we're judging by "human standards", we would find the hyper-religious -- who would put god's word above showing humanity to fellow humans -- immoral. I imagine most very religious people would disagree with this assessment, which makes me think finding those ethics that virtually all human societies agree on might be non-trivial. (One might suspect murder is a low-hanging fruit, but one persons justwar/freedomfight/deathpenalty/necessarypoliceaction/etc. is another person's murder.)


I think that's why individual communities need to form their own traditions and customs or laws.
 
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whac3 wrote:

I think that's why individual communities need to form their own traditions and customs or laws.

But eventually when we join the United Federation of Planets, we can't settle for moral relativism, Starfleet has to have rules!
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Osirus wrote:
whac3 wrote:

I think that's why individual communities need to form their own traditions and customs or laws.

But eventually when we join the United Federation of Planets, we can't settle for moral relativism, Starfleet has to have rules!

Morality will always depend on practical consideration as well.
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whac3 wrote:
Meerkat;

That's not unique to religions though. Secular humanism also drives people to be better.


Does it? Prove it.
 
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tstone wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Meerkat;

That's not unique to religions though. Secular humanism also drives people to be better.


Does it? Prove it.

The term was coined by a man who was then Archbishop of Canterbury. He claimed Christians had to compete with those trying to apply Christian values without being Christians. So if Christianity is trying to make the world a better place then so necessarily is secular humanism.
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Sort of like how we shouldn't judge republicans based on the lack of diversity. Yeah, this fallacy crops up a lot in RSP.
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Is a political party a thing of itself or is it simply the people in charge and their political stances?

Is a religion a thing of itself or simply the people who follow it?

Since Christ lived and did the things the Bible says He did, then Christianity is a thing in and of itself and the people who follow are just that - following, and anything that changes within Christianity either makes it not Christianity or is irrelevant to the definition of Christianity.
 
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Jythier wrote:
Is a political party a thing of itself or is it simply the people in charge and their political stances?

Is a religion a thing of itself or simply the people who follow it?

Since Christ lived and did the things the Bible says He did, then Christianity is a thing in and of itself and the people who follow are just that - following, and anything that changes within Christianity either makes it not Christianity or is irrelevant to the definition of Christianity.

This thread is really about judging a religion from the outside in order to potentially decide if one wants anything to do with that religion. One would only accept that such a person as described in the NT did what is claimed if one is a believing Christian already.

So to rephrase things. Imagine you, Jay, are asked to give the merits of your religion without resource to things only an adherent of it would necessarily accept. How would you do that? Now all I've really argued in the OP is that saying "We're better people" is a non-starter. As a Jew, I can say that Judaism defines the Jewish people and that we are without question as a people a benefit to humanity. Of course, I'm not asking anyone else to join.

So how would you, Jay, personally answer the question when it's applied to Christianity?
 
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I would say that the difference is almost entirely a different point of view, and a father to discipline you if you are not becoming a better person. The difference is in the intangible things and entirely wrapped up in the package of things adherents believe.
 
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Jythier wrote:
I would say that the difference is almost entirely a different point of view, and a father to discipline you if you are not becoming a better person. The difference is in the intangible things and entirely wrapped up in the package of things adherents believe.

Wait. It sounds like you are insulting Christianity and saying that it has no redeeming value except in the minds of Christians. As hostile as I am to Christianity as an ideology, I doubt even I would go that far. Yet you seem to.
 
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whac3 wrote:
Jythier wrote:
I would say that the difference is almost entirely a different point of view, and a father to discipline you if you are not becoming a better person. The difference is in the intangible things and entirely wrapped up in the package of things adherents believe.

Wait. It sounds like you are insulting Christianity and saying that it has no redeeming value except in the minds of Christians. As hostile as I am to Christianity as an ideology, I doubt even I would go that far. Yet you seem to.


The only reason Christians become better people is due to God's direct influence in their lives, through the Holy Spirit. All the good that is done is directly related to things that non-adherents don't believe in, and ultimately non-adherents tend to believe that it is the individual in question who is better for having the religion, as opposed to simply being a reflection of Christ.
 
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whac3 wrote:
Osirus wrote:
…But Moshe is making the argument that it's an invalid rubric, just from the unexpected position of "People of X and Y religious beliefs show no statistically significant differences from everyone else, but that doesn't mean X and Y have no value."

I'm unconvinced that I agree, but I don't feel terribly strongly about it so I'm disinclined to argue the point.…

That is indeed the argument I'm making. Jythier does correctly point out that one needs a standard to judge by but as humans I think we must judge by human standards. Naturally those will vary but I think a good approximation are the ethics that virtually all human societies agree on.


Whose "human standards"? Based on what?
 
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slatersteven wrote:
whac3 wrote:
Meerkat;

That's not unique to religions though. Secular humanism also drives people to be better.
I would tend to agree, with the caveat.

Better by our standards.

Yes I think that we do live in a world that is more free, has better living conditions and is fairer then at any time in our history. But then we must not forget that many forms of secualr governance are in fact a form of religion (such as the cult of personality), it may also be no accident such places tend to be rather unsavory places.


Would you say it's only getting better then because the further back you go the more our society and the past diverges then, and it only looks like it's getting better because of the convergence with the present?
 
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