Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Apologies and Replies on Charity and Eastern Ethics

I have to apologize. The last month has been poor for my blog. First I go on vacation for a week, so before and after I am rushing to get things done. Then midterms. And then last week I just couldn't get myself to do it, plus I'd been surfing older posts, putting 'notes' on posts that get a lot of views, and deciding how to reply to a couple comments.
Course I make it all up by writing a frickin long post, go me!

Hence, just a post to do so. First, Heretic asked a question on her blog and I have a novice understanding in a general sense, which I am proud of. I actually have read at least 1, and up to 4 books on each area of Taoism, Confucianism, Bushido, and Buddhism. So, amateur yes, but I want to learn more. So here's my reply to her question, from another person:

"Why didn't Eastern Religion(s) have to go through the process of constructing an image for God (as we see that Christianity has had to do through the process that the bible has gone through to become the document it is today)? And does that have anything to do with the fact that the Chinese civilization was one of the most up and coming civilizations for a good period of time?"

This is one area I need to look more into especially because Demosthenes keeps bringing up Judeo-Christian values. (now you HAVE to reply Demosthenes ;)

It may be a cop-out (?) but I think the simple answer could be that an embodied god just didn't matter to them. Taoism has 'the way,' and I am unsure if there were gods but I didn't get that when I read through some Taoist books, including Tao te Ching. It's a simple life, not questioning things too much except 'are you being a wise person?' Which means many things including being 'good.'

Taoism is kind of opposite of Confucianism, which Confucius essentially tried to set up a secular religion, no gods needed. He was scholarly and poor, and wanted to be rich. The rich wouldn't really benefit from his system, and so it was hard to catch on. It was mixed, as well, with his governmental views.

Then we have Buddhism which a couple sects have gods, but most don't, though they have spiritual leaders in different sects, such as the Dalai Lama. It has some real mystical views, such as reincarnation, but again, all about bettering oneself, which also means helping others.

In Japan by the time the samurai were popular they got the Samurai code, Bushido. Very tyrannical but it was a godless code of how samurais should act and how the peasants should treat them. And it wasn't necessarily a great system but it worked.

Point is, when we look back on eastern religions they had gods and spirits and ancestors an such, but the main forms ethical codes came from generally godless systems. Being godless, they didn't have to embody their gods.

This of course is an amateur spouting his opinion.

And an addendum - It would be difficult to give Chinese civilzation the one-up due to religion. Being a fan of Jared Diamond I agree with his 'theory' of European superiority is nothing more than having coal and iron abundance, especially coal next to London, and that they domesticated far more animals than other societies, giving them immunities to many contagious and deadly diseases. Which helped wipe out anywhere from 60-80% of the Native America's people in 200-300 years. I mean ALL of the natives in America. Roughly 2 out of 3 due to disease. Rambling now though, but was it religion or white superiority? No.

So for China I think it was a culture with many secular ethical views but a dogmatic loyalty to the emperor of their day. Nationalism. Which I've already stated is, in my view, just like some religions. China was still the #1 superpower only about 300 years ago, Diamond would say till the 1800s. China however is quickly rising again to be #1 but it's an amazing economic plow of having little to no debt, saving money, having a monopoly on steel, I'm pretty sure, and then having the people forced into dogmatic loyalty. Course, as with Iran, the people are continuously getting more and more say.

So why am I putting this up here? Well, I need to do a post at some point! And I'd like some feedback and arguing if possible. Or information from people that they think would be beneficial to share.

On charity I have to reply to the many good comments but I'm going to be brief. (Well, not so brief.)If you wish for more clarity on what I'm saying then refer to my last post/comments on Charity (the giving kind) maybe on another window. If you don't care to read the discussion then you can go do something else now:


It is my view that we have the genetics to be taught empathy. Sociopaths would be those who don't. I know of some kids who really are sweet in every way, and grow up to become more and more rude. But the vast majority of children are punks. So it's a nature nurture thing for me, which is generally my stance on everything.

I may be reading you wrong Demosthenes, but I do think that Judaism was revolutionary thinking. I just don't think we need to derive our morals from the Bible. If there was a 10,000 year old book on ethics I would think the Bible would be an improvement. And that's how I think about it now, that we should be moving on from it to higher thinking. Cause we're already cherry-picking the things that the Bible 'should' be saying. So, it's not a horrible book overall, just it sure makes it easy to be used horribly and I think a better newer system would be more beneficial.

I completely agree that secular institutions are harder to organize and to give as much as, say, the Mormons who truly believe, truly enjoy what they are doing, and do it for free. Mormons like to 'show off' a little with their service but because of that it is EASY to see that the money and effort put into it is amazing.

It is more difficult as an atheist to do service. I can't really go on a service mission, and other churches probably have some 'qualifications.' But the difference isn't too large. If I really really needed to do service I could go to church and in Priesthood I could raise my hand for all the coming opportunities. But again, that is a religious organization.

I agree that there are plenty of 'service' atheists. I use Guy Harrison as the example of a human being just as devoted as the religious person to helping out humanity. Being atheist doesn't mean you will stop doing work. I just volunteered at a hospital, for a class, but I enjoyed doing it and if I had time (which, literally, right now I don't = conflicting hours) and friends involved I would go back. But for me I have no level of self-righteousness to say that I'll drop everything and more to Africa to help children for the rest of my life.

Demosthenes again:

I think altruism is better, but I also do think everyone should be recognized (unless they sincerely don't want to be). I always want to thank someone for paying for my toll, or who did something kind, or brought over my mail from the wrong address. But I think we both agree that the person who just did it and the person who waits to give it to you personally so that you know it was them and hope you will praise them ... there's a difference. With charity though, if praise helps an organization then I say give more of it.

In closing I just want to say that I do hope more gets done in the world. SHIFT is trying to organize more monthly service opportunities, and Good Without God in Salt Lake City already does things. Religious groups still have a monopoly, and some work very well, and should be supported. I think the secular community needs to work harder on this, but only those who truly feel the drive, or else it'll flop, like if I tried to start one. I also think that atheists and theists should get over their god differences and work together towards helping humanity instead of not working together. That's just pathetic. I support any 'good' charity or service organization that works and brings about good in the world, religious or not. In fact, this is one area of my life that hasn't changed due to falling out of the Mormon faith. If you are sacrificing for others then good job.

Longer than I expected, oh well.


  1. First note: The Judeo-Christian tradition does not have an embodied God. Mormonism does, and in that sense it is outside of the Judeo-Christian theological tradition. Buddhism does not have a creator God, although they do believe in apotheosis (becoming a god) when one reaches Nirvana. There is also the concept of a Bodhisattva, where one chooses to stay in mortality and be an example to others rather than leaving the cycle of reincarnation and becoming deified. I think the statues of Buddha and Hindu gods and goddesses indicate that a tangible expression of a physical deity did in fact catch on in some Eastern religions.

    Regarding ethics, I don't think any of us would approve of the treatment of women in Buddhist thought, of foreigners in Shintoism, or of the Untouchables in Hinduism. As to cultural and technological development, the west won that one for one simple reason: Intellectual property protections under the patent system, derived from British common law tradition. Until the working class could profit from invention, there was no incentive to invest scarce resources in research and development except for the wealthy elite. The best treatment of this issue I have read is William Rosen's "The Most Powerful Idea in the World". Fantastic read.

    You are also factually mistaken about the genetics of sociopaths and the evolution of morality. Michael Stone's "The Anatomy of Evil" documents neurologic differences between those on death row and the rest of us, but there is no genetic link. The anatomic differences are all a result of nurture, not nature. The driving idea behind Judaism, which Christianity inherited, is that all of humanity is of equal value. Western culture is a blend of Athens and Jerusalem, and classical philosophy certainly did not hold any notions of universal human equality. The best treatment I have seen to date of the ethical contributions of Judeo-Christian thought to Western civilization is David Brog's "In Defense of Faith". Clearly reasoned, well written, lots of examples, and, quite frankly, irrefutable.

  2. I don't treat Hinduism because I know very little on it. Most of my reading into eastern thought generally is just that, I know little of Buddhism as a religion, except you are correct in saying that Nirvana is 'god-like,' though they wouldn't phrase it that way. The Dalai Lama states that there are possibly infinite Buddhas all over the cosmos, if there are infinite universes. After talking some more about the question with the 'source' I slightly misread it, but that's fine.

    Oh no, like I said, lot's of eastern thought, ethics, and religions, work but they are not all that good. I didn't touch on Hinduism but I know some about the culture, mainly through fictional works written by Indians, and snipits of documentaries, and I think the caste system is barbaric.

    I haven't read Germs Guns and Steel but I'm pretty sure Diamond put across that because of natural resources and technology Europe rose up and went around, but it had nothing to do with smartness, mainly timing and examples like massive coal deposits right under London. I won't go against Rosen's views and I'm sure that if I read the book in the near future I'll agree with most he has to say.

    When I state 'evolution of morality' I mainly mean that as a species we do something that isn't exactly right, over and over, maybe let up for a bit, go back to it, and then eventually begin to really move on. I would think this would take a while to do, but with the advent of language we can move along much more quickly, more quickly than we learn from past mistakes. Evolution in morality to me isn't brain matter changing through reproduction, but a nurture effect from the world that we pass on to next generations generally through example and story. That may help my view to be more clear. It's my understanding that the human brain has basically been the same for over the last 100,000 years.

    I admit that I could be wrong about sociopaths, I mainly go off things I learned 5-9 years ago which could have been expounded upon. But it was my understanding that there was no correlation with family life to sociopaths, some come from loving homes, rich homes, abusive homes, etc.... And most of the studies I remember looking at were studying the sociopaths homelives because they usually start acting like sociopaths from the earliest years, which many act the same (very mature manipulation, abusive, abuse animals, abnormal amount of lying, etc....). It was my understanding that sociopaths are basically born that way and nurture can have an affect, but sometimes doesn't.

    I may need to read Brog's book to understand where you are coming from. I've admitted that Judeo-Christian ethics are key, but I never like putting all my eggs in one basket ... er, shopping bag to be more modern.

  3. An addendum as well - when I say to take a step up I mean what I mean. You acknowledge Christianity inheriting views from Judaism and I still think at their heart (which is NOT fundamentalism which is a recent thing in history) that they are decent. Judaism is okay, Christianity a step up, and I want another step up, just another. Something secular. But, like I've said before, I agree with Dennett that I have no idea what that would be, or if we could even do that in our lifetimes.

  4. It would help me if you could provide an example of where Christian morality is a step up from Judaism. I've heard that said before and frankly I have no idea what people are talking about when they say it.