Author Topic: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?  (Read 2539 times)

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Offline Quetzalcoatl

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I made this post in another thread, which was really an off-topic discussion, but is something worth discussing in its own right.

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So, is religion a mechanism for enforcement of social rules? Is that how it arose? I argue that this is not the case, because it seems to work very poorly. I'd also add that my impression is that ancient and medieval Japan and China, while certainly having supernatural beliefs, didn't really use those beliefs as a foundation for morality. But if I am wrong, then please tell me so, and explain. I am as always open to change my mind in the light of new evidence.
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Offline John Albert

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2019, 08:38:55 PM »
I think religion was invented to help early despots consolidate and maintain power. Establishing a moral code is only part of that goal.

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2019, 08:50:48 PM »
In my opinion, religion arose as a way for crooked people to get superstitious people to give them their stuff. "Morality" came much later as an excuse to keep getting superstitious people to give the priests their money.

Telling little kids that if they touch their dicks they'll burn forever in hell is NOT morality.
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Offline Captain Video

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2019, 09:25:24 PM »
I think it arose as an enforcement mechanism for everything, sometimes it even made good sense.

wise man: don't eat the pork, its making people sick and they eat too much to be sustainable, don't eat the camel we need those for transportation, don't eat the shellfish we have no way to preserve it.
people: we don't understand we will do it anyway
wise man: we wont survive if you keep doing it
people: but that makes no sense, we have always eaten that stuff, not everyone gets sick and there are still some camels left.
wise man: ? ... ! ... God says don't do it.
people: got it, that makes so much more sense. We will stop.

Now the wise man can use science to explain why and some people would still rather believe the superstition.
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Offline CarbShark

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2019, 09:25:39 PM »
In my opinion, religion arose as a way for crooked people to get superstitious people to give them their stuff. "Morality" came much later as an excuse to keep getting superstitious people to give the priests their money.

Telling little kids that if they touch their dicks they'll burn forever in hell is NOT morality.

It seems like you’re seeing how it functions in today’s society and deciding that’s its purpose and why it’s here.


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Offline brilligtove

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2019, 10:04:00 PM »
Listen to that episode of Hidden Brain. Deeply informative.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #6 on: May 19, 2019, 11:40:31 AM »
I think it arose as an enforcement mechanism for everything, sometimes it even made good sense.

wise man: don't eat the pork, its making people sick and they eat too much to be sustainable, don't eat the camel we need those for transportation, don't eat the shellfish we have no way to preserve it.
people: we don't understand we will do it anyway
wise man: we wont survive if you keep doing it
people: but that makes no sense, we have always eaten that stuff, not everyone gets sick and there are still some camels left.
wise man: ? ... ! ... God says don't do it.
people: got it, that makes so much more sense. We will stop.

Now the wise man can use science to explain why and some people would still rather believe the superstition.

I think the above is unlikely. The Jewish dietary restrictions (as well as circumcision) are more likely to have arisen as a way for the Hebrew tribes to distinguish themselves from the surrounding gentiles.

And if the founders of religion were so wise, why did they get everything else so wrong? And why were those particular restrictions limited to one very small group of people? People who followed just one of many disparate religions.

It seems like you’re seeing how it functions in today’s society and deciding that’s its purpose and why it’s here.

Yep.
Daniel
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Offline Noisy Rhysling

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #7 on: May 19, 2019, 01:27:57 PM »
We know other primates make ethical choices and behave "morally" with each other, most of the time. Religion just co-opted a societal feature and made it the intangible that they give in exchange for not having to work for a living.
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Offline brilligtove

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #8 on: May 19, 2019, 02:22:46 PM »
There is actual science that we can use in this discussion. For example, it appears mean Gods make good people. Azim Shariff's look at fear of "supernatural punishment" is reliably associated with lower levels of cheating. This single idea has huge implication for humans' capacity to form groups larger than 150 or so.

 https://www.npr.org/2018/07/16/628792048/creating-god has more information and several other studies.
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Online Harry Black

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2019, 05:55:10 AM »
Religion is a belief in supernatural order in the universe. Some sort of rules with which we can interact.
It seems unlikely that someone invented a story about where the sun goes at night and why people die in order to control people.
It seems more likely to me as an individual that that the myths and organised belief in them were already there and people co-opted them.
I wouldnt even be surprised if early narcissists and psychopaths assumed that the gods agreed with their moral judgements.

I dont think there is any way to know though because religion predates history and any evidence that I could imagine being conclusive either way.

Offline brilligtove

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2019, 08:40:16 AM »
Religion is a belief in supernatural order in the universe. Some sort of rules with which we can interact.
It seems unlikely that someone invented a story about where the sun goes at night and why people die in order to control people.
It seems more likely to me as an individual that that the myths and organised belief in them were already there and people co-opted them.
I wouldnt even be surprised if early narcissists and psychopaths assumed that the gods agreed with their moral judgements.

I dont think there is any way to know though because religion predates history and any evidence that I could imagine being conclusive either way.

Do you think religion sprang into existence fully formed? Your argument above is the same one creationists use to deny evolution (e.g. an eye is too complex...). They assume religions and related beliefs are subject to evolutionary pressures just like all other cultural phenomena are. Some cultural practices conferred a reproductive advantage to the people who conformed to those practices. Over time the beliefs and rules and practices that were most effective at spreading accumulated into systems of belief that were then codified into formal religions.

These scientist investigate religion from a behavioural point of view - a mindset similar to behavioural economics. They investigate questions about what elements of human nature allow religion to exist at all.

As one example, instead of asking "Why do religions want to control women's bodies?" they might ask "What adaptive or maladaptive effects do rules that increase birthrates have on a society?"

Has anyone listened to the podcast?
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Offline bachfiend

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2019, 10:22:40 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.
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Offline seamas

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2019, 12:43:30 PM »
I suspect religion evolved from several different streams. Some were to codify what was seen as "successful" behavior, which would have been seen as a reasonably good way to help the clan survive.
There was some rudimentary understanding of "fairness" and "justice" so codes/laws were best understood as being inescapable, what better explanation did one need than "the gods say you can or cannot do X"?

Other aspects would have simply been your basic campfire fables, where some old member of the group would relate some story about the little understood world around them.
Magical thinking and superstition was an easy means of understanding the world--especially when there was no written language. Stories got handed down, heroic acts became even more heroic, ancestors became worshiped and of them-or their attributes--morphed them into gods--or people who had close understanding of gods. Stories traveled from group to group. One can see all sorts of similar  characters and stories that came out of Mesopotamia and the middle east--what have some common ancestor to stories and characters found in the Abrahamic religions.

I don't buy the idea that a large portion of religion was (until more recent times) some kind of calculated invention.

Online Harry Black

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2019, 12:46:08 PM »
Religion is a belief in supernatural order in the universe. Some sort of rules with which we can interact.
It seems unlikely that someone invented a story about where the sun goes at night and why people die in order to control people.
It seems more likely to me as an individual that that the myths and organised belief in them were already there and people co-opted them.
I wouldnt even be surprised if early narcissists and psychopaths assumed that the gods agreed with their moral judgements.

I dont think there is any way to know though because religion predates history and any evidence that I could imagine being conclusive either way.

Do you think religion sprang into existence fully formed? Your argument above is the same one creationists use to deny evolution (e.g. an eye is too complex...). They assume religions and related beliefs are subject to evolutionary pressures just like all other cultural phenomena are. Some cultural practices conferred a reproductive advantage to the people who conformed to those practices. Over time the beliefs and rules and practices that were most effective at spreading accumulated into systems of belief that were then codified into formal religions.

These scientist investigate religion from a behavioural point of view - a mindset similar to behavioural economics. They investigate questions about what elements of human nature allow religion to exist at all.

As one example, instead of asking "Why do religions want to control women's bodies?" they might ask "What adaptive or maladaptive effects do rules that increase birthrates have on a society?"

Has anyone listened to the podcast?
I havent listened to the podcast.

But what I am saying is exactly that they dont spring out fully formed. They develop incrementally and start with some explanation of some thing people are unsure about.

So thats why I think its unlikely that they were 'created' with the intention of enforcement.
Im sure some were created by grifters who didnt believe what they preached (scientology) but fairly sure that many more came about in earnest.
I think a broad statement either way about religion in general is a bit reductive.

Hope that clears up my previous post?

Offline Quetzalcoatl

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Re: Did religion arise as an enforcement mechanism for morality?
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2019, 12:47:55 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.
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