jgnat - I agree with the widening concept of what our 'tribe' is. I like Pinker's work though I haven't the book you list.
Challenge to Athiests - is Religion a Pox on Mankind?
Qcmber, my brother.
Laika - had a good read of those sources and while they are not particularly scholarly I will grant that I have a better understanding of what you meant by charity. I will happily accept that Christianity was a major factor in driving the spread of alms and caring for the poor and sick whereever it was dominant.
The effect of christianity in Britain is somewhat muted during the Roman occupation but gets up to a full head of steam with the Anglo Saxons. Christianity was also very local in its flavour having merged itself with the local pagan religions and having set itself up in places such as Iona.
I was very interested in the concept that medical care - in the form of hospitals - was largely a christian invention (some useful info here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_hospitals) but of course there is a deeper story - the poison. How were these charitable acts paid for? How were hospitals, almshouses and infirmaries financed?
"In Europe the medieval concept of medical care by monasteries and religious orders was rejected by the Reformation, and most hospitals in Protestant areas were closed down. Theology was the problem. The Protestant reformers rejected the Catholic belief that rich men could gain God's grace through good works—and escape purgatory—by providing cash endowments to charitable institutions, and that the patients themselves could gain grace through their suffering"
Charity was being driven by a fear of hell. Indeed one thing that struck me is how ineffective these hospitals were (I am struck by a similar example with Mother Theresa) and beyond offering some shelter, food and a bed they weren't very effective. Indeed the reason why so many needed charity was because the invaiding Roman culture had fought hard against the indigenous Celtic concept of the individual with communal land rights and had replaced them with land ownership, servitude , taxation and other forms of wealth seperation. Religion was very much a tool of Roman occupation post 300AD.
So in short - yes charity was a defining charateristic of christianity but I would argue so was organisation, written dogma and guilt (all contributors to the spectacular spread of christianity.) Another thing to realise is how much the peasants were co-erced into accepting christianity (once a King or local noble converted the locals were normally baptised as well - people were property.)
So some good , fairly inneffective, stuff from christianity some poison in the form of guilt, sanctification through suffering, taxation and the general lack of genuine knowledge about medical matters (as one would expect from a set of religious books written by uneducated people rather than a super being.)
Ruby456: a myth that was generated after the reformation - secular states wanted to promote themselves as modern, secular, peace loving forces...
If there's one thing I know about democratic, political states is that they merely reflect the mood of the people. That is, if they want to be re-elected. So what was it in the people's makeup that had them sideline religion? Also, I am wondering about the timing.
jgnat I was talking about religion as an irrational destructive force v the secular state as modern secular peace promoting. both are myths but as plato indicated we need good myths to enhance wellbeing I am quite happy to promote life enhancing myths so long as they don't actively deny life and well being to others. In the long run I guess I would rather know when I am promoting a myth, or worse when I have erected a smokescreen, so that I can modify/remove it if need be. But when it comes to developing policy then I would expect our leaders to be honest with one another and be able to justify their decisions adequately because in reality love/peace and violence/hate are simply two sides of the same coin and this was as true during the periods you mention as it is now.
I knew Thoreau said more about charity. He goes on from about page 54. This was bugging me all night.
I argued with him through most of the book. But gosh, that man makes you think.
Qcmber, I see you breezed right past my conclusion that good is good. Are you really saying that a cold glass of water, if offered by Mother Teresa, is poisoned?
I agree Ruby that societies carry with them shared myth to move them forward.
Sorry jgnat - I breeze past a lot - time is short :( I actually haven't firmly defined a sensible definition of what 'good' is, having read Sam Harris' Moral Landscape I was introduced to the novel idea that we may be able to scientifically ascertain the value of each situation. The current debate has a long way to run before our great thinkers have bottomed out at least this approach to defining good. As such it isn't (in my mind) the act of giving the water itself that would be poisoned but the reality of why that exchange took place. If the giving of water is motivated by fear of hell surely that poisons the intention rather than if it was motivated soley by a natural impulse to share and aid. Religion poisons (in my mind) not simply by what it does but by why it does it.
When a religion gives with one hand it expects to receive with the other (have a bible study for free - come join our organisation , body, mind and purse forever). Returning to Mother Theresa as a really good example - a good behaviour (care for needy) was poisoned by a religious devotion to anti-social policies (she was anti contraception, anti modern medicine, alledgedly used less than 10% of donations on charity work etc.) and arguably she perpetuated poverty rather than alleviated it because her attitude was poisoned by her faith.
"I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people."
See, I used to think like that too, from the other side of the fence. Which I described in my former attiude towards USA for Africa. I repeat, good is good. A life saved, a belly fed, hope renewed is all good. Regardless of the source or intention. Otherwise, I may accuse you of tribal bias.
I've condensed what is good first to Pinker's list at the back of the Language Instinct, and now to Haidt's well-developed six principles. This is not an objective "good" but a very human instinct that is hard-wired in us. Instead of fighting our nature, I say embrace it. I swear we're happier and likely more robust from an evolutionary standpoint, if we pay attention to these instinctual morals.
To borrow a JW phrase: 'we're all imperfect'
I don't mean we shouldn't always strive to do better, but we can always find problems with human efforts if we are looking for it.