If you encounter some tribes in New Guinea, they say it is ok to kill your enemy and shrink his head. Some European cultures say it is ok to publicly defecate and urinate on the sidewalks. So does exposure to other cultures really determine what is wrong and what is right?
Have you had a chance to watch the 20 min TED Talk video I linked earlier? I think it's called, "Science can answer moral questions." As I understand, yes, obviously societies (people) determine what is wrong and right in their own societies. It's why we don't shrink heads in the US, but then again, in PNG, they don't incarcerate a non-violent criminal in a high-security prison without chance for parole for life. If we look at these situations objectively, with concern for a person's well-being, and question the moral reasons for imposing suffering, I think an argument could be made to change both these practices.
Can you name any behavior or actions that have always been and always will be "ethically wrong" no matter what culture or what age?
Hmm, well I've never studied anthropology or anything, but I'm not sure I can think of one off the top of my head. Do you have any ideas?
Ok, so who defines "ethical" to begin with? How did it get determined that relieving suffering is "ethical"? Does putting someone out of their misery count (think euthanasia against someones will) as "ethical"?
Good question. We're social creatures by nature, that is to say, we've evolved that way. We have a built in empathy for each other (the lack of this natural empathy is called "psychopathy," and that's not always a bad thing
). Because we're social creatures, we naturally work towards cooperation for the benefit of the society. In that way, "ethics" is a natural outcome of living in a community. I think that's what the concept of "sin" is really about - identifying those behaviors that work against cooperation (which is tricky, because we're also naturally drawn towards autonomous behavior in some measure as well).
If you think about it, you should be able to identify a set of acceptable behaviors and noble characteristics for any group of family or friends you've had in your life. In the family I grew up in, we converse quietly and do most of our "sparring" with words. In the family my husband grew up in, loud, raucous behavior was the norm, and expression oneself loudly, passionately, and with great emotion was not only acceptable, it was expected. In my family, these would have been rude behaviors as they would have been seen as uncouth and uncivilized. In his family, my family's behaviors would have been rude, as they would have been interpreted as condescending an arrogant. Who was "right" and who was "wrong"? The answer is - neither and both. In my family, we had a different set of "right" and "wrong" than in my husband's family. Similarly, we behaved differently with our college buddies, a completely new community with its own set of expected / ethical behaviors.
Please go on to explain how something is actually determined good or bad, wrong or right. Just because you hurt someone against their will means something is "wrong"? What about plunging a knife in the temple of the person raping your four-year old daughter as he is raping her? Is it wrong to hurt him against his will?
Protecting an innocent child from the aggressive and violent advances of an intruder is something our society has agreed is ethical. If you recall 12Monkey's post, you'll note that a century ago this was not the case. In addition, the aggressive and violent advances of an entire race of intruders upon his society was not only considered acceptable, it was considered ethical and a good Christian move (something about "killing the Indian to save the soul" - I can't recall, but you can google that). We don't accept that today, but public policy within a self-identified Christian society was founded on this idea.
I am in no way saying that only religious people have morals and find things offensive. That is a straw man on your part.
Thanks for clearing that up.
I do agree that rape hurts. But, is this an absolute moral truth? Does all rape hurt? Is doing something to someone else against their will wrong all the time for everybody for all times?
It is not an absolute moral truth. The bible talks about selling daughters, even as brides to the new master or his son (Exodus 21:7-11). That's human trafficking. That's selling a girl for legal rape (if we understand rape to mean sex without consent). You can read more about rape being justified in the bible here: http://www.evilbible.com/Rape.htm
From the standpoint of the Jewish culture, this was not a crime, it was not an immoral act (it's one reason your claim to have a superior moral code falls flat - if this behavior is acceptable to your moral author, he's pretty fucked up by today's standards). One of the problems with religion is the justification of behaviors that, by all objective analysis of suffering and well-being, are cruel and unjustifiable. Consider the practice of child brides currently in Muslim nations, even when children die
, some religious authorities call for younger legal ages
. How can they not see this is cruel and unjustified? Because religious thought is, like you mentioned before, irrational. It's not based on rational thought or a critical analysis of facts, but an appeal to religious authority whereby ideas are accepted as fact when they are merely based on belief. When one believes "in their heart" that there is an objective moral truth that trumps what we can see and discuss, the issue becomes dire because people suffer.
You Christians create the suffering for others, did you know that? You think you relieve suffering, but in many avoidable ways, you create it. Your moral code differs from the Old Testament moral code where facts are unavoidable. That's why I said your God of the Gaps is getting smaller. "Sin" was once an explanation for human behavior, but undeniable facts are chipping away at that explanation. My problem with your supporting this religion is that when you assume this explanation is factual, your "solutions" create unnecessary problems and people suffer because of it.
I'm not trying to be snarky or mean or any other negative thing. It really is a genuine question, but reflect on the question in the context of all that you have already said. We'll leave it as a "rhetorical question."
I think we're good.