Journal Community

Big changes are coming to WSJ.com. They will affect commenting, profiles, connections and email notifications. Learn more.

Explore Group

Do we need religion to have ethics? Is it possible that a world without religion can be, on the whole, a better place to live?

« »
Recommend a comment by clicking the recommendation icon
  • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +
    • It's alarmism. Lets test it under the Ethic of the Great Commandment

      Love God - -(the creator) What is God's plan for the environment? Can we really do anything to change the "Climate" if so will it be better? The Science that is directing the alarm is all based on projections of human activity. We know for a fact that God (Nature) has darkened the planet and left it that way for generations.

      Love your neighbor as yourself - How does the actions affect humans on the earth today? Gore promises that the benefits are worth the pain, but can you believe him? Gore has a vested intere$$$t in enviromental control and we don't know if he speaks from that or from real concern about his fellow man. Our neighbors include Africans who are desperate for development. Is it their interest to curtail the use of Oil and automobiles to control the Climate?

      It's worthy of much discussion but the "love your neighbor" should not be left out of the equation. (recall Rachel Carlson and DDT)

      Recommend

  • I bounce in and out of this thread from time to time, mostly during my lunch break. It's no surprise that the question posed in this forum is lost on 95% or more of the comments posted. I think that's normal based on what I see elsewhere. I'm guilty. It's hard to stay on topic. But, perhaps someone wants to play...

    Do we need religion to have ethics?

    Recommend

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      The simple answer is no.

      Recommend

      • While I agree...wow. You guys go on for pages detailing your knowledge of history, literature, culture, demographics, etc. And yet, when reintroduced to the question that brings newcomers to this blog in the first place, you respond with a one word answer.

        Here's a thought folks: Put down your intellectual sabers long enough to say what's in your heart. Why does every discussion have to be about what was thought or written hundreds or thousands of years ago? I understand the relevance of history, but at some point we have to weigh the evidence that is presented to us here and now and decide how we're going to live what's left of our lives. At some point we have to look forward and consider the very likely possibility that all of the philosophy that came before us is all wet.

        Recommend

    • From a purely pragmatic perspective, yes, unless you are willing to accept government as the source of them!

      Recommend

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      NEED? No.

      But I'm pretty convinced it's a positive influence.

      Recommend

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      "While I agree...wow. You guys go on for pages detailing your knowledge of history, literature, culture, demographics, etc. And yet, when reintroduced to the question that brings newcomers to this blog in the first place, you respond with a one word answer."

      Dan,

      I'm a relative new comer. And I did have rather in depth discussions with many here about that basic question in my early weeks and even months. But at this point, at least for me, it's more of a club house.

      I understand what you are saying. But look at the page count. I'm not sure there is much that hasn't been said, at least a couple of times.

      "At some point we have to look forward and consider the very likely possibility that all of the philosophy that came before us is all wet."

      Possible? I suppose. But "likely"? I don't believe even natural selection would endure that.

      1 Recommendation

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      What I've learned in being part of this blog is that the answer to the question is largely dependent on how we define the two key words in the question...

      How do you define "religion?'

      "Ethics?"

      Once we settle on these definitions, the question becomes answerable, at least insofar as we know what we are answering.

      Recommend

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      Dan, you were the first one in a long time that asked a simple straightforward question that deserves a simple straightforward answer.

      As for going forward, we can never divest ourselves of the past entirely. Our whole system of governance is rooted in the past. We are doomed to live in a multi-polar world. Not that it is a bad thing. Because everybody thinking alike is not only boring but intrinsically dangerous. Visions of Big Brother. Some people like to be told what to think. They find solace in that.

      I don't.

      I like to go against the grain. Gives me energy, purpose, and it is much more interesting. I am not fond of lemmings, sheep or any kind of herd animal. The worse type of human behavior is group behavior. That is why I dislike lynch mobs and I don't like to go to a church where everybody prays at the same time. Jesus himself wasn't fond of Churches. as he said in Matthew:

      "When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.…"

      For some reason church goers tend to forget that part because it conflicts with their need for group identification. I don't belong to any group. I think it is particularly idiotic for Atheists to form groups. To protest religion? Why bother?

      Recommend

      • Thanks Peter. That was a very thoughtful and appreciated response. While I don't label myself an atheist I'm on board with everything you said. I especially appreciate the passage from Matthew. I suppose unlike you (I don't really know) I leave open the possibility of a creator. In fact, in my experience in reading about ongoing discoveries in science and nature, the complexity of what we're finding makes a "designer" seem increasingly necessary. If that were to prove to be the case, I'd sure like to meet "It" because WOW I have so many questions. However, going into a big building and talking to the floor in unison doesn't make any more sense to me now than it did when I was ten.

        Recommend

  • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

    Xavier and Nancy:

    I figured it would just be easier to combine this.

    My hidden assumption is Nietzschean; specifically, that people fight for power. Sometimes it is the power to be free of oppression, sometimes it is power over others, and sometimes it is perceived moral power, or perhaps even the supernatural power of having a ticket to everlasting life. The average human wants power, wants influence and choice and control, more than anything. That is the Wille zur Macht. Tough to prove, scientifically speaking, but it does make a lot of sense (at least, to me).

    Also, evolutionary science suggests that humans are hard-wired to be intensely tribalistic (because it was a very advantageous trait to have for the majority of our species’ existence thus far). This means we naturally gravitate towards powerful in-groups and subscribe to the requisite negative qualifying of some (or all) out-groups.

    Muhammad was born into a fiercely tribalistic—read: nationalistic—world. The Iron Age Middle Eastern tribes had been in a state of constant war (more or less) for thousands of years. Because of this, there was no in-group (like the Romans) that was too powerful to be challenged by a new in-group. Muhammad, like any other person, wanted power. As the leader of a new in-group, one being threatened from all corners by brutal and relentless opponents, power for Muhammad would mean defeating his enemies and thus guaranteeing the survival—let alone prosperity—of his new in-group.

    Just as U.S. leaders realized in World War II, reinforcing the bulwarks and hunkering down behind them isn’t always the best course of action. Sometimes, in order to defend yourself against a particularly determined enemy, you must go to where he lives and topple his capital. Muhammad and the Muslims did this, and thus achieved the impressive feat of birthing and propagating a new in-group in one of the most fragmented and violent places in the ancient world.

    So, yes, propagating Islam was a method—but it was still a means to an end, a clever and effective strategy to reallocate power by building a new in-group. Islam is powerless without tribes to champion it, and make no mistake, sub-Islamic tribalism is still the most influential organizational force in the Middle East (and much of the rest of the Muslim world). Since the very beginning of Islam, Muslim tribes have competed viciously with one another for power; many Sunnis and Shi’ites would rather fight each other than join forces against other groups (although Western intervention in the Middle East has dampened that tradition).

    The Quran has so-called “sword passages,” but it also has too many checks on aggression to be a primary ideological vehicle—let alone core motivation—for world domination.

    1 Recommendation

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      Zach, glad to see you in action and in good form!

      Christians are into conversion as well, but today they rarely take to the sword. But if you asked the Spanish Conquistadors, they might tell you that converting the heathen was on their minds. Grabbing the gold was just a side benefit!

      However, to give Christians a break, not all of them are about power. I have seen an Amish group close up and if all Christians behaved like they do the world would indeed be a better place. But then there are people like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell who would bring the wrath of God to unbelievers, and who could not conceal their delight when New York was hit on 9/11. It was God's retribution for Gotham they gleefully declared. Sounded pretty violent to me. OK, they didn't do it but were sure glad God did it for them.

      Recommend

      • Peter,

        Re your post to me lower down this thread, did you read what I wrote that you were responding to, particularly my saying,

        "Is it because Christians have avoided undue concentrations of power, having more readily accepted a limited role for God, thus leaving space for Caesar?"

        Isn't that exactly what you are now telling me? Let me encourage you yet again that you go back and read the lengthier post I made in the New Forum page of your blog, the one that starts,

        "Okay, let’s get the ball rolling. Recently I wrote that I believe that there is a third way of looking at the issue of atheism or religion. It is definition dependent, with evolutionary and faith or trust components that have become confused in ways that make rational discussion difficult."

        http://apocalypseaverted.blogspot.com/2014/05/new-forum.html?showComment=1400288543203#c6672190685421076776

        It is hard to keep up a conversation if we have to repeat everything over and over. That post in your blog is just a repeat of one I made a few months back in this Journal forum.

        As to,

        "I think you have it the other way around. Christians did not become less violent, the progressives that imposed constitutionalism tamed these countries."

        Where did those progressives come from? What was their cultural background? What was their genetic and childhood grounding? Oh, and you like to point to France and its Revolution, what about the English Civil War and their Great Revolution, the first more than one hundreds years earlier than the French? What about those progressives and what was their cultural background and childhood grounding?

        As I said, the whole thing is very complex and what I am trying to understand are the balances of forces. It is not as easy as saying that a few aliens showed up and taught them how. They were all formed and cooked in the same kettle. Moreover, as I try to point out in the post in your blog, whatever changes were brought about during the French Revolution, these were relatively marginal to the bulk of the sets of rules that prevailed at the time and continued to govern the relations between peoples.

        Recommend

    • Zach, power is a copout but one that I will accept ;). Indeed, I debated whether in my post to Dan Hamilton in the previous page at, 

      http://online.wsj.com/community/groups/religion-diversity-tolerance-governance/topics/do-we-need-religion-have?commentid=7347479

      I should include it but I opted for the simpler and more inclusive framework.

      I am far more interested in the difference in the balance of forces within Islam vs. those within Christianity. I am not even clear what the relevant forces are. My general observation, however, seems, and let me underline "seems" to be that while Christianity on balance comes out more towards, peace, love, reliance on the individual and change, Islam comes out more towards violence, reliance on a central authority, and rigidity, particularly the latter two.

      I am not going to get into a debate about whether one or another of these qualities is present in one or the other religion. They are ALL present. To me what is more important is the very subtle and unstable equilibrium between the various forces at work. Even within one society and even one city or section of a city these forces operate differently and find different balances. On the whole, however, I find that today Christian societies are more peaceful and progressive than Muslim societies, and in different scales and circumstances, I find that at least in the change vs. rigidity departments, Christian societies were far more dynamic the last few hundreds of years. 

      Going back to your preference for power, it would seem that Christian societies have done a  far better job taming power than Muslim societies. If this observation is correct, then why have Christians done better in that department and how have they managed it? Is it because Christians have avoided undue concentrations of power, having more readily accepted a limited role for God, thus leaving space for Caesar? I am keeping it very broad because unless one understands how these forces operate at their very core, it is difficult to get a handle on what role they play, if any.

      I'll tell you this much. One clear observation I made working for twenty years very closely with dozens of countries, those that are able to make fewer or smoother power swings, and have better adapted their power bases and key sets of rules to change, have progressed far better. In the Middle East the problem seems to be excessive concentration of power and excessively rigid sets of rules. 

      One thing I found striking about South East Asia when compared to say, Latin America, is that while LA imports and tries to graft directly into their whole rule set the foreign rules necessary to participate in international commerce, the SE Asians carefully adapt and make a place for them next to their more traditional sets of rules, which to the extent possible they try not to disturb. Doing that requires less change and adaptation by the whole population in SEA than in LA, and therefore the process proceeds more smoothly. In the Middle East and other Muslim countries, with an obvious exception here and there, they largely try to do new things, including international commerce, the old and their way.

      1 Recommendation

      • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

        Xavier, did it ever occur to you that countries with many Christians in them have become less violent because many of them, if not most of them have adopted some sort of constitutional political framework? You were looking at France, and some might be tempted to say that France is a "Christian" country, but really in name only, much like Sweden. They are nominally Christian but are stronger believers in democracy or republicanism.

        I think you have it the other way around. Christians did not become less violent, the progressives that imposed constitutionalism tamed these countries. Is it a coincidence that Islamic countries are my and large autocratic? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? If you look at the Muslim world, one country stands out - Jordan. Jordan is ruled by a constitutional monarch who is trying his best to move towards a more democratic system. Jordan, which is predominantly Muslim is head and shoulders above its fellow Muslim countries.

        So the constant seems to be Constitutional democracy, not religion. Bush, in spite of himself had a valid point. When Muslim countries develop constitutional democracies with their accompanying institutions they will tend to be less violent over time. He went about it all wrong, by trying to impose western values by force, but his instincts were basically correct.

        I shudder to think what our country would be like if the Puritans of Massachusetts were allowed to fashion our country the way they ran the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Blue laws would be the least of our problems. And please, if you call this a red herring I will scream loud enough to be heard in Montana.

        Recommend

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      Xavier, the whole point about Progressives is that we can progress which is the opposite of wishing everything should stay the same. I went to Catholic Church, was schooled by nuns and asked too many questions when they decided I was a trouble-maker. Was not going along with the program and being an obedient little boy. So you can say that the nuns helped me be a revolutionary. The point I got from them is that one must obey without question. Not even my Dad asked me to do that. So who were these people going to tell me how to act? Because they had a direct line to God. Nice try ladies, but I didn't buy it so they "discouraged" me from going to catechism because I was a bad influence on the other children. God forbid they developed an independent thought. They wanted good little obedient boys and girls. Not trouble-makers like me who asked too many questions.

      Do you think people who think like that should be telling us how to behave? Not me.

      Recommend

      • I also had nuns in grammar school and Jesuit priests in high school, and I never felt that way. My father prepared me to respect people, the only thing about which he was a tyrant, and I found that as long as I respected others they respected me, including the nuns and priests, and including not bossing me around. When they did I saw them as flawed humans and just ignored them, but for the most part I always found that the respect was reciprocal regardless of age.

        And by the way, my respect for others always included strict observance of their rules when I was in their domain. In retrospect it is amazing how as a result I was given so much leeway by adults of all stripes, even parents with their daughters, but also teachers in areas that were verboten for others. Heck, I even remember in high school one night late getting a call from my dorm-master that I come to get him from a neighborhood bar where he had had one drink too many!

        Recommend

  • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

    One MORE "unintended consequence"

    "Oh, nothing is going to happen if we raise the minimum wage. If you claim it will, you are just lying because you hate the poor."

    Well, I heard last week or the week before that fast food places were closing shop on military bases, because apparently they are not allowed to adjust prices to PAY for giving people a raise.

    Now, nursing and care facilities that serve veterans are cutting back on services and capacity.The progressives will b1 tch about "greedy business owners"; which will make THEM feel real good. And our military and veterans will continue getting it stuck even FURTHER up their @sses by this administration.

    And I really think the avalanche was put right on the very edge of letting go by the VA scandal. If the Democrats continue to feel compelled to distance themselves from him, he is SCAREWED.

    Recommend

  • Bob,

    "shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality - the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth - today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past, and may do so again. "

    Chew on this and think it about it. I have said that same thing in the past and been called a Communist.

    Recommend

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      But greg, this government is more activist than it has ever been in our history. Yet, the more they "tinker" to reduce inequality, the greater we see inequality get.

      "Doctor, it hurts when I do this".

      Well? STOP DOING THAT.

      I know you truly believe you are wise enough to "manage" things like the economy. Observation has repeatedly demonstrated otherwise. It's time to stop and accept observable reality. THAT is what a "scientist" would to.

      ALL of life is "negotiated". When the negotiation is done between the parties of interest, the best possible outcome occurs; whether that is to your "liking" or not. But when disinterested parties inject themselves as "dictator" and "lord", one side is not going to like it. And at some point simply will not ACCEPT the dictum. Are people better off with an $8/hr. job? Or are they better with NO job? Because THOSE are the ONLY choices for many. You can demand anything you like. But THOSE ARE the choices.

      While I never did it rudely, my employees were occasionally told, "You understanding is optional". And they got it. I don't think you do.

      1 Recommendation

    • Nonsubscriber comments are set to "Hide" Show this comment +

      Greg,

      Charles Gave has now questioned Piketty on this view, "Piketty confuses the return on invested capital, or ROIC, with the growth rate of corporate profits, a mistake so basic it is scarcely believable."

      He explains, "Let me explain with an example. I happen to be a shareholder in an industrial bakery in the south west of France. It has a return on invested capital of 20%, but we cannot reinvest the profits in the company at 20%. If we were to reinvest the profits by putting more capital to work, the profits would not change at all, because nobody in the region is going to buy more bread and productivity gains there are non-existent. In other words, the marginal return of one more unit of capital put to work is zero. So instead of reinvesting in the bakery, we distribute the profits among the shareholders and they invest them elsewhere as they see fit. In short, our bakery has a high ROIC but no profit growth."

      If you've said the same thing in the past, perhaps you've been wrong as well.

      Recommend

« »
To add a comment please
Create an Account

Your real name is required
for commenting.

  • Clear
  • Post
Your Profile Here…

Set up your profile to connect with members of Journal Community.

Your profile gives you access to personal messages, connections, and Group invitations.

Your Groups Here…

Participate in engaging dialogue on topics that matter to you and other members of your group.

When you join groups you'll find them for easy access here. Learn new perspectives and educate each other.....

Most Active Discussions