I think this discussion may have brought to light an important possitive to many religions. Would all of the religious faithful be able to control their primal instincts, such as murder, to the degree they do without the fear of supernatural damnation? Would our secular laws be enough to tame all of their selfish desires? I see religion fulfilling some of societies social needs. I’m not advocating religion as the most efficient method, just an effective one for those uninterested in applying critical thinking to larger & more complicated societies.
Any sort of powerful authority works as a temporary replacement for ethics. In the USSR, for example, they worked hard to get rid of religion but had large and efficient police organizations and a system of powerful punishment. However, after the state structure collapsed, crime was rife. In other words, the citizens hadn’t developed ethics and had no motivation to help one another. This same kind of thing seems to occur when religious people think they can get away with something. And it also occurs when religious people deal with others outside their own denomination or religion.
I don’t think learning to be ethical takes critical thinking or deeper analysis, althought these are helpful, both in ethics and generally. Just as religious ideas are inculcated into the very young, so could ethical beliefs be taught to small children. I figure if animals can exhibit interspecies caring, ethics isn’t that difficult or arcane a discipline to live by.
Psiheyhackr, my father had a milder solution than you. He was left handed and constantly rapped across the nuckles with a chair-back rung by the nuns when he was in Catholic school. He never indicated he wanted to kill anyone, however, he had a huge supply of jokes about nuns, that he told. As a small child I stood in the background and listened. It was fascinating how often as I went through my teen age years I would recall one of them, say, “Oh, that’s what that means,” and laugh. My father was not a vulgar man, but he made an exception for priests and nuns.
Any sort of powerful authority works as a temporary replacement for ethics.
I would like to think that humans are influenced largely by internal pressures, largely due to our biology and temperered by our social environment. This viewpoint simply reinforces how humans rely upon an external codification to keep us on the straight and narrow - a dubious fiction that religious zealots grasp in a vain effort at validation of their particular social prescriptions.
Would you say that Pol Pot, Stalin or any other number of similar powerful leaders inculcated their form of ethics because they exerted as you say powerful authority?
I have been getting back at the nuns every since they used to hit me across my hands with a ruler when I attended Saint Marys school in Phoenix Arizona. When ever I see nuns walking down the street I always say out loud so everyone in ear shot can hear, “What Halloween is here already? Look two women dressed as witches. I am sure they have the best costume of anyone.”
Or sometimes I say, “Wow look two witches on their way to their black sabbath and the moon isn’t even full yet.”
I did this once in Portland Oregon and a man on the street said I should apologize to them and I replied, “And I suppose you are a wizard headed for the same black sabbath” and laughed as I heard several people nearby laugh.
Occasionally the nuns will try to explain to me they are nuns of the Catholic church and I reply, “Yeah I heard of that black magic church where they worship the devil and burn candles for ghosts” then I laugh in their face and walk away. But this small town has no nuns and in order to find any I have to go 150 miles north of here to the big city.
I even insulted a Catholic priest once on the street in Seattle by saying, “Wow a real male black witch! Wait until I tell my wife, she will never believe it! Can I get your autograph? My wife collects pictures of male witches as she says they are really not real, but now I can tell her I seen one in Seattle.”
The priest was pretty upset and tried to explain he was actually a Catholic priest, but I replied; “Sure and I am the president of the United States” then laughed and shook my head laughing some more. I was in my fifties at the time, but I would do it all over again if given a chance.
I see humans as driven, first by self-interest. Since we are social beings we have to depend on each other to help and to avoid harming each other. Children are taught the value of helping others and avoiding harming them, and this is, as I see it, a fundamental description of ethics. If the children learn that the state has many laws and universal surveillance to punish anti-social behavior, they don’t learn ethics because that would be redundant, and their parents don’t teach them. When the state collapses, the person can’t fall back on social behavior, but only has self-interest to motivate him/her.
And, yes, ethics are wholly dependent on powerful external sources—when they are children, their parents and other adults inculcate later behavior, and the adults are extremely powerful external sources.
I agree we are driven powerfully, probably primarily by self-interest. But I think there is some evidence that the behaviors you believe are taught to facilitate living in groups are actually also innate to some extent. We have, after all, evolved to live in groups. I also think people’s behavior can be shaped on many levels. Teaching someone that potential punishment is the only reason to behave in a certain way would be ignoring true ethics. But I suspect we control our impulses by a combination of internalized ethical standards and awareness of potential coercion. People often revert to self-centered, antiscocial behavior when coercive government disappears (e.g. New Orleans), but not eveyone, not completely, and not always. So I think the situation is a bit more complex than you suggest, and “wholly dependent on powerful external sources” seems going too far to me. And if you disagree I’ll beat you up!