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Old 11-17-2012, 15:47   #1
Chronos
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thoughts on the secularization of civilization

First of all, I'm coming at this question as an "atheist" in the Bertrand Russell sense, and this post is aimed more at the atheists here, though religious people are welcome to present non-trivial thoughts and arguments as well.

Basically, I'm concerned about the moral breakdown of the US. Historically, the US had some really strong ethical fiber, which was key to the growth of its prosperity, and I *think* it was largely reinforced amongst the masses by its particular brand of religion (feel free to challenge this assumption if it's not justified). Basically, the majority of Americans have tended to reject the idea of using state coercion for personal gain. Of course there were always a few who had no problem with state coercion, but the vast majority had a strong desire to behave ethically. This is no longer the case, and the US is now in a terribly vulnerable economic situation -- completely, utterly incapable of dealing with the long-term cost of the vote-buying schemes that now enjoy massive support from the people, effectively selling every newborn child into $200k of debt in the process.

We're now at a phase where people are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that "compliance with an iron-age holy book" is in fact a terribly weak basis for morality, and "believe it or burn forever" is a really terribly weak supporting argument. However, there is a basic problem -- it is far easier to spot weaknesses in an ethical theory than it is to construct a solid one. Thus, although I think there are some good (far, far better, anyway) basis for ethics out there, it is very, very far from common knowledge.

What results is an ethical vacuum. Although religious ethics is weak from the point of view of first principles, the final ethical guidelines can actually be good ones -- and I think this was historically the case in the US.

So the question that has been bothering me lately is this: Is it possible for a society to transition out of arbitrary-but-excellent ethics (religious guidelines) into a reason-based ethics without first going through a nasty ethical vacuum?
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Old 11-17-2012, 16:32   #2
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Quote:
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Basically, I'm concerned about the moral breakdown of the US. Historically, the US had some really strong ethical fiber,
...
I'm not sure I agree with this.

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...
which was key to the growth of its prosperity,
...
If I did agree that these U.S. were historically moral, which I'm unsure on, I would disagree with this anyway.

Capitalism was the key to growth and prosperity.

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...
and I *think* it was largely reinforced amongst the masses by its particular brand of religion (feel free to challenge this assumption if it's not justified).
...
I think moral religious people are moral despite their religion, not because of it.

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...
Basically, the majority of Americans have tended to reject the idea of using state coercion for personal gain. Of course there were always a few who had no problem with state coercion, but the vast majority had a strong desire to behave ethically.
...
I could be wrong, but I'm thinking the minimal government that we are supposed to have, and did have in the past, didn't give many people the option of using state force against others. I don't think it's because they didn't want to.

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...
This is no longer the case, and the US is now in a terribly vulnerable economic situation -- completely, utterly incapable of dealing with the long-term cost of the vote-buying schemes that now enjoy massive support from the people, effectively selling every newborn child into $200k of debt in the process.
...
Well we no longer have capitalism, we have crony capitalism, and that's what happens.

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...
We're now at a phase where people are increasingly coming to terms with the fact that "compliance with an iron-age holy book" is in fact a terribly weak basis for morality, and "believe it or burn forever" is a really terribly weak supporting argument. However, there is a basic problem -- it is far easier to spot weaknesses in an ethical theory than it is to construct a solid one. Thus, although I think there are some good (far, far better, anyway) basis for ethics out there, it is very, very far from common knowledge.

What results is an ethical vacuum. Although religious ethics is weak from the point of view of first principles, the final ethical guidelines can actually be good ones -- and I think this was historically the case in the US.

So the question that has been bothering me lately is this: Is it possible for a society to transition out of arbitrary-but-excellent ethics (religious guidelines) into a reason-based ethics without first going through a nasty ethical vacuum?
I think so, because I think that even religious people have reason based ethics, and that's why they ignore the worst parts of their chosen holy book.

And I strongly disagree with "but-excellent ethics (religious guidelines)".
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Old 11-17-2012, 16:55   #3
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I'm not sure I agree with this.



If I did agree that these U.S. were historically moral, which I'm unsure on, I would disagree with this anyway.

Capitalism was the key to growth and prosperity.



I think moral religious people are moral despite their religion, not because of it.



I could be wrong, but I'm thinking the minimal government that we are supposed to have, and did have in the past, didn't give many people the option of using state force against others. I don't think it's because they didn't want to.



Well we no longer have capitalism, we have crony capitalism, and that's what happens.



I think so, because I think that even religious people have reason based ethics, and that's why they ignore the worst parts of their chosen holy book.

And I strongly disagree with "but-excellent ethics (religious guidelines)".
So, condensing my thoughts into a post, and now reading your thoughts has me leaning toward your position, for the following reason. There were historically a huge number of countries that were highly christian, but where prosperity never really broke out in a manner comparable to the US. This seems to suggest the fundamental ethical principle was completely independent of the religious background -- if they reinforced each other in the US, it was merely because they had both already been widely adopted.

Anyway, thanks for some quality thoughts on this -- I regard this as a very important issue to get straight.
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Old 11-17-2012, 17:00   #4
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One thought I want to add, though, is that I do think it takes some strong ethical principles to resist the growth of the state (and associated destruction of capitalism) -- that the US went for over a century with very limited government seems to be evidence of strong ethics.
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Old 11-17-2012, 17:13   #5
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Anyway, thanks for some quality thoughts on this -- I regard this as a very important issue to get straight.
It was really just off the top of my head, my default positions. Almost no matter the question, capitalism and freedom are the answers, while government and religion are not.

Your op is thought provoking, and I'm sure I'll add more after thinking about it more.
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Old 11-17-2012, 17:38   #6
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It was really just off the top of my head, my default positions. Almost no matter the question, capitalism and freedom are the answers, while government and religion are not.

Your op is thought provoking, and I'm sure I'll add more after thinking about it more.
I think that is a strong default position to have. However, I guess what I'm concerned with is not religion per se, but the process of transition to a more robust set of basic principles, i.e. can it happen without an ethical meltdown?
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Old 11-17-2012, 18:05   #7
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Capitalism was the key to growth and prosperity.

I agree, but just like everything else there's a point where too much of it becomes very bad. Would you be OK with companies merging over and over until there's only one giant corporation that controls the entire economy? One CEO at the top of everything? Might as well make him dictator.

One choice for an employer. One choice for where to buy goods and services. No opportunity for small businesses to get off the ground since they have to get all supplies from their only competitor and can't possibly match prices.

You have to put the brakes on it at some point. The only question is what that point should be.
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Old 11-17-2012, 18:13   #8
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I agree, but just like everything else there's a point where too much of it becomes very bad. Would you be OK with companies merging over and over until there's only one giant corporation that controls the entire economy? One CEO at the top of everything? Might as well make him dictator.

One choice for an employer. One choice for where to buy goods and services. No opportunity for small businesses to get off the ground since they have to get all supplies from their only competitor and can't possibly match prices.

You have to put the brakes on it at some point. The only question is what that point should be.
You are not describing capitalism -- you are describing what tends to happen under fascism or crony capitalism (which requires abandonment of consistent ethics and acceptance of violence against peaceful, productive people). Mergers can outnumber new players only when barriers to entry are established, which the state is fantastic at establishing via regulation.
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Old 11-17-2012, 18:46   #9
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religion is morals and ethics with emotion
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Old 11-17-2012, 19:34   #10
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You will reap what you sow. It's a law just as valid as gravity.

What comes around goes around. However you want to put it.

We are in a crisis in this country because we have rejected God's Way. I'ts not accident that the most industrialized nations on earth also worship the God the Bible, and the most backward ones don't.
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Old 11-18-2012, 01:33   #11
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I agree, but just like everything else there's a point where too much of it becomes very bad. Would you be OK with companies merging over and over until there's only one giant corporation that controls the entire economy? One CEO at the top of everything? Might as well make him dictator.

One choice for an employer. One choice for where to buy goods and services. No opportunity for small businesses to get off the ground since they have to get all supplies from their only competitor and can't possibly match prices.

You have to put the brakes on it at some point. The only question is what that point should be.
If you think this would happen, why didn't it happen in our first 100 years?
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The constitution is not, nor was it meant to be absolutely literal.
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Old 11-18-2012, 01:52   #12
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We are in a crisis in this country because we have rejected God's Way. I'ts not accident that the most industrialized nations on earth also worship the God the Bible, and the most backward ones don't.
Here is a little thought experiment you might find interesting.

Within this century, someone will switch on a computer that has the ability to recursively self-improve both its intelligence and it's ability to manipulate the physical world. In a very short period of time, it will become the dominant force on the planet.

Such an entity will by necessity be programmed with some kind of ethical framework, which it will use all its intelligence to relentlessly and precisely uphold in the world as its maximum priority.

Now, what kind of ethics should we input into the computer before we switch it on?

A) a mathematically exact, yet to be developed ethics which has consequences that are proven beforehand according to precise theorems

B) a copy of the King James Bible

You make the call.
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Old 11-18-2012, 06:17   #13
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We are in a crisis in this country because we have rejected God's Way. I'ts not accident that the most industrialized nations on earth also worship the God the Bible, and the most backward ones don't.
Japan doesn't "worship the God the Bible", Uganda is predominantly Christian, as is Zimbabwe
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Old 11-18-2012, 06:30   #14
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I'm more concerned about the breakdown in morals among the religious.

Christian leaders smoking meth and having sexual affairs, all while preaching the horrors of such things, Catholic priests buggering young boys, Muslim leaders advocating violence against innocent civilians...

The need (or desire) for personal freedom should never be confused with immorality.

And when the supposedly 'moral' leaders stray so far, what does that tell young people about integrity? That 'sin' is God's great test?

Also, the thought that capitalism is somehow 'moral' is one of the most ridiculous things I've heard in a long, long time.
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Old 11-18-2012, 10:11   #15
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Also, the thought that capitalism is somehow 'moral' is one of the most ridiculous things I've heard in a long, long time.
So theft is more moral then freedom and property rights, got it.
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Old 11-18-2012, 19:57   #16
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I'm concerned about the moral breakdown of the US. Historically, the US had some really strong ethical fiber, which was key to the growth of its prosperity... it was largely reinforced amongst the masses by its particular brand of religion...the vast majority had a strong desire to behave ethically. This is no longer the case...
What results is an ethical vacuum.

So the question that has been bothering me lately is this: Is it possible for a society to transition out of arbitrary-but-excellent ethics (religious guidelines) into a reason-based ethics without first going through a nasty ethical vacuum?
In a word, no.

Leftist atheists have tried this before, in the French, Bolshevik, and Nazi Revolutions, and failed horribly. Turning away from God, rejecting "square" values, promoting sodomy and discouraging traditional marriage as "freedom", taking the Lord's Prayer out of public schools, have all contributed to the mess we're now in.

To your credit, you see that we're heading downhill fast. But the only answer that's going to work is turning back to Jesus. Sorry if that's not what you wanted to hear, but it's the truth.

The truth shall set you free.
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Old 11-18-2012, 20:03   #17
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Japan doesn't "worship the God the Bible", Uganda is predominantly Christian, as is Zimbabwe
There are of course exceptions. Uganda and Zimbabwe are recent developments. Shinto and Buddhism are most likely an offshoot of Judaism. The Brahma's, most likely from Abraham.
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Old 11-18-2012, 20:41   #18
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If you think this would happen, why didn't it happen in our first 100 years?
Who said it has to happen in 100 years?
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Old 11-18-2012, 22:30   #19
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If you think this would happen, why didn't it happen in our first 100 years?
Didn't Taft go on a crusade because corporations were becoming too powerful and potentially heading down that path? Or was trust busting based on something else?
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Old 11-19-2012, 02:19   #20
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There are of course exceptions.
Then it isn't a particularly valuable point is it?
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Uganda and Zimbabwe are recent developments.
So is the industrialization of the US.
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Shinto and Buddhism are most likely an offshoot of Judaism. The Brahma's, most likely from Abraham.
That's absurd.
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