Author Topic: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?  (Read 2541 times)

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Offline bachfiend

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #15 on: May 20, 2019, 02:35:27 PM »
In hunter-gatherer societies, where everyone knows everyone in a band, because they’re seeing everyone everyday, religion (with its morality) isn’t necessary.  Failure to follow ‘the golden rule’ is easily punished, because no one can get away with behaving badly, as their actions are either observed or reported to other members of the band.  And appropriate punishment can be agreed to by the other members, which might include banishment, a virtual death sentence.

In larger societies, ‘bad’ actions can go unobserved.  So it’s useful to have an invisible god observing and punishing bad actions.  Which evolved into a moral code.

But empirically, religion doesn't seem to work as an enforcer, and not all societies have referred to religion as the foundation of morality. Ancient China springs to mind.

It is a hypothesis that makes intuitive sense, but as I see it anyways, doesn't hold up empirically. And it is not the only hypothesis around for the origin of religion.

Well, you can argue that since crime exists, then police forces and the judicial systems don’t work as ‘enforcers’ either.  But obviously, if the police and courts stop working, then crime would skyrocket.  In the same way that religion and its ‘moral’ code mightn’t stop activities it regards as immoral, but might reduce their prevalence markedly.
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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2019, 02:49:46 PM »
In hunter-gatherer societies, where everyone knows everyone in a band, because they’re seeing everyone everyday, religion (with its morality) isn’t necessary.  Failure to follow ‘the golden rule’ is easily punished, because no one can get away with behaving badly, as their actions are either observed or reported to other members of the band.  And appropriate punishment can be agreed to by the other members, which might include banishment, a virtual death sentence.

In larger societies, ‘bad’ actions can go unobserved.  So it’s useful to have an invisible god observing and punishing bad actions.  Which evolved into a moral code.

But empirically, religion doesn't seem to work as an enforcer, and not all societies have referred to religion as the foundation of morality. Ancient China springs to mind.

It is a hypothesis that makes intuitive sense, but as I see it anyways, doesn't hold up empirically. And it is not the only hypothesis around for the origin of religion.

Well, you can argue that since crime exists, then police forces and the judicial systems don’t work as ‘enforcers’ either.  But obviously, if the police and courts stop working, then crime would skyrocket.  In the same way that religion and its ‘moral’ code mightn’t stop activities it regards as immoral, but might reduce their prevalence markedly.

But the statistics I posted in the Op suggest that the levels of corruption tend to be higher in deeply religious countries, and lower in more secularized countries. Also, the levels of homicide in the European regions and countries measured were much higher in past centuries compared to today, when these regions and countries were more religious.

If religion worked to reduce crime and immorality, Sweden, Estonia, and Czech Republic should be hell on Earth, while Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, ruled by God-fearing individuals, should be shining examples of well-ordered societies.

If I'm not mistaken there is a similar pattern within the US. The more religious states tend to have more crime and social problems compared to the more secularized states.
"I’m a member of no party. I have no ideology. I’m a rationalist. I do what I can in the international struggle between science and reason and the barbarism, superstition and stupidity that’s all around us." - Christopher Hitchens

Offline Ah.hell

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #17 on: May 20, 2019, 04:18:12 PM »
I think religion started much like grand conspiracy theories, as a way for people to feel some control over a seemingly random and uncaring universe and probably only later became a means for leaders to exercise control over the populations.   

My evidence is that even relatively small hunter gather's with relatively democratic social structures have religions.   

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #18 on: May 20, 2019, 04:42:39 PM »
I think religion started much like grand conspiracy theories, as a way for people to feel some control over a seemingly random and uncaring universe and probably only later became a means for leaders to exercise control over the populations.

Makes sense. Ancient Egypt, so dependent on the Nile for its survival and prosperity, had a river god, Osiris. Tried to please him in order to get good annual floodings from the Nile.

It also then makes sense that the Pharaoh over time became considered an incarnation of Horus, the son of Osiris, while alive (and an incarnation of Osiris in death).

My evidence is that even relatively small hunter gather's with relatively democratic social structures have religions.

It seems though that while agricultural peoples adopted polytheism (and in some cases monotheism), hunter-gatherers had more animistic and shamanistic beliefs. I think that difference says something, though I am not sure exactly what.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #19 on: May 21, 2019, 12:15:44 PM »
... But obviously, if the police and courts stop working, then crime would skyrocket.

When I lived in Mexico, there was a police strike in a small city nearby. Sorry, I forget the name of the city. Crime dropped precipitously. After a week or two the strike was settled, the police went back to work, and crime went back up to its former level.

It was no secret that in the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, the car insurance companies paid the police a regular bribe for the recovery of stolen cars, and that stolen cars not covered by the bribe would not be recovered. It was widely believed that cops were the thieves in many instances of stolen cars. Also, in Guadalajara, during the time I was living there, there was a dispute between the banks and the government over who should pay for the armed policemen who stand outside all the banks. For about a week there were no guards. During that week there was more than one bank robbery per day in the city, way more than normal, and the robbers operated with military precision, and used weapons that are generally only available to the police there.

Lastly, also in Guadalajara, and while I was living there, there was a kidnapping in broad daylight. As the kidnappers were escaping, the cops shot and killed the victim.

I don't think we can take it for granted that police and courts keep crime down. You're probably safe from them if you are white and middle-class or above. If you are poor and black, I think you'd be better off if the police just went away. And you'd definitely be better off if the courts were replaced by a coin toss.
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Offline Shibboleth

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #20 on: May 21, 2019, 02:52:12 PM »

But empirically, religion doesn't seem to work as an enforcer, and not all societies have referred to religion as the foundation of morality. Ancient China springs to mind.

Well The Son of Heaven and the Mandate of Heaven certainly shows how China used spirituality to validate the right of rulers but there were plenty of rules and moral structures that formed under it.

The genesis of religion within groups probably pops up for many reasons but I doubt the genesis is around rulership. My guess is that in a lot of ways it starts like this.

-Women keep dying during child birth (or something of that nature).
-Person claims they can talk to a spirit to try to have a healthy birth
-In time the role of this person gets codified as a religious leader
-They can claim, "Do this or you won't have a healthy birth."
-Soon they gain in more power and start dictating rules so that people have healthy crops, babies, etc. and if crops/hunts/battles go bad the people that aren't following them get punished.

Once that gets established rulers can start using it to validate their legitimacy or demonize the enemy. "We are bear tribe, they are antelope tribe, bear kills antelope."
common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Offline Ah.hell

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #21 on: May 21, 2019, 04:22:56 PM »
... But obviously, if the police and courts stop working, then crime would skyrocket.

When I lived in Mexico, there was a police strike in a small city nearby. Sorry, I forget the name of the city. Crime dropped precipitously. After a week or two the strike was settled, the police went back to work, and crime went back up to its former level.

It was no secret that in the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, the car insurance companies paid the police a regular bribe for the recovery of stolen cars, and that stolen cars not covered by the bribe would not be recovered. It was widely believed that cops were the thieves in many instances of stolen cars. Also, in Guadalajara, during the time I was living there, there was a dispute between the banks and the government over who should pay for the armed policemen who stand outside all the banks. For about a week there were no guards. During that week there was more than one bank robbery per day in the city, way more than normal, and the robbers operated with military precision, and used weapons that are generally only available to the police there.

Lastly, also in Guadalajara, and while I was living there, there was a kidnapping in broad daylight. As the kidnappers were escaping, the cops shot and killed the victim.

I don't think we can take it for granted that police and courts keep crime down. You're probably safe from them if you are white and middle-class or above. If you are poor and black, I think you'd be better off if the police just went away. And you'd definitely be better off if the courts were replaced by a coin toss.
So, you agree with bachfiend then?

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #22 on: May 21, 2019, 04:55:54 PM »
... But obviously, if the police and courts stop working, then crime would skyrocket.

When I lived in Mexico, there was a police strike in a small city nearby. Sorry, I forget the name of the city. Crime dropped precipitously. After a week or two the strike was settled, the police went back to work, and crime went back up to its former level.

It was no secret that in the city of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, the car insurance companies paid the police a regular bribe for the recovery of stolen cars, and that stolen cars not covered by the bribe would not be recovered. It was widely believed that cops were the thieves in many instances of stolen cars. Also, in Guadalajara, during the time I was living there, there was a dispute between the banks and the government over who should pay for the armed policemen who stand outside all the banks. For about a week there were no guards. During that week there was more than one bank robbery per day in the city, way more than normal, and the robbers operated with military precision, and used weapons that are generally only available to the police there.

Lastly, also in Guadalajara, and while I was living there, there was a kidnapping in broad daylight. As the kidnappers were escaping, the cops shot and killed the victim.

I don't think we can take it for granted that police and courts keep crime down. You're probably safe from them if you are white and middle-class or above. If you are poor and black, I think you'd be better off if the police just went away. And you'd definitely be better off if the courts were replaced by a coin toss.

With all due respect, I don't think we can generalize that anecdote for all of humanity. We can see over the course of history that societies, past and present, with no or weak law enforcement agencies, are prone to violence and vendettas.
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Offline John Albert

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #23 on: May 21, 2019, 06:38:39 PM »
There have been countless studies on religion and morality over the last few decades, and the results are all over the place.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2019, 02:04:38 AM by John Albert »

Offline arthwollipot

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #24 on: May 21, 2019, 08:53:30 PM »
Religion arose as an extension of superstition. Actually, religion arose so far in the past that it would be futile to declare that there was one particular reason for it, and absurd to claim that you know what that reason is.

But religion probably arose as an extension of superstition. Like Skinner's pigeons, early humans noticed things happening after they performed certain behaviours. They continued performing those behaviours in the hope of those things happening again. Sometimes, they did. And thus a ritual is born. Whether there was any actual connection between the behaviour and the thing is almost beside the point.

Have you read the infamous Kissing Hank's Ass (or seen the video)? The same person who wrote that also wrote a lesser-known piece called The Physician and the Priest. It's relevant to this discussion, and worth a read.
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Offline Shibboleth

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #25 on: May 22, 2019, 03:40:15 PM »
Religion evolved so that people can bend dull metal swords with their neck.
common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Offline Ah.hell

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #26 on: May 22, 2019, 04:22:15 PM »
Religion evolved so that people can bend dull metal swords with their neck.
Is that some Bullshido trick?

Offline superdave

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #27 on: May 22, 2019, 05:30:10 PM »
No.
is it used that way?
Yes.

This is like asking if fingers arose as a way to write poetry.
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Offline Boßel

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #28 on: May 23, 2019, 10:17:17 AM »
No.
is it used that way?
Yes.

This is like asking if fingers arose as a way to write poetry.

If poetry is real, then why are there still fingers?!

Offline bachfiend

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #29 on: May 23, 2019, 10:41:55 AM »
In hunter-gatherer societies, where everyone knows everyone in a band, because they’re seeing everyone everyday, religion (with its morality) isn’t necessary.  Failure to follow ‘the golden rule’ is easily punished, because no one can get away with behaving badly, as their actions are either observed or reported to other members of the band.  And appropriate punishment can be agreed to by the other members, which might include banishment, a virtual death sentence.

In larger societies, ‘bad’ actions can go unobserved.  So it’s useful to have an invisible god observing and punishing bad actions.  Which evolved into a moral code.

But empirically, religion doesn't seem to work as an enforcer, and not all societies have referred to religion as the foundation of morality. Ancient China springs to mind.

It is a hypothesis that makes intuitive sense, but as I see it anyways, doesn't hold up empirically. And it is not the only hypothesis around for the origin of religion.

Well, you can argue that since crime exists, then police forces and the judicial systems don’t work as ‘enforcers’ either.  But obviously, if the police and courts stop working, then crime would skyrocket.  In the same way that religion and its ‘moral’ code mightn’t stop activities it regards as immoral, but might reduce their prevalence markedly.

But the statistics I posted in the Op suggest that the levels of corruption tend to be higher in deeply religious countries, and lower in more secularized countries. Also, the levels of homicide in the European regions and countries measured were much higher in past centuries compared to today, when these regions and countries were more religious.

If religion worked to reduce crime and immorality, Sweden, Estonia, and Czech Republic should be hell on Earth, while Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, ruled by God-fearing individuals, should be shining examples of well-ordered societies.

If I'm not mistaken there is a similar pattern within the US. The more religious states tend to have more crime and social problems compared to the more secularized states.

’Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality’?. Arise.  The arise is important.  In modern societies, there are other mechanisms for ensuring adherence to a moral code, such as state power and social pressure through social media.  But ‘way back when’ religion did enforce a moral code.  It was virtually the only thing doing it.
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