Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Christian morality as regressive

As I detailed in an earlier post, there are three main stages of morality :

Stage 1 - order-based morality
Stage 2 - natural morality
Stage 3 - rational morality

Now, let's look at the nature and transmission of moral principles in each stage.

Stage 1 : At this level - mostly babies and small children - there are few ways by which morality is transmitted. There is pre-cognitive conditioning (giving orders, stopping from doing bad things, rewards and punishments) and there is narrativism. But narrativism at this level is used not for the power in the narrative itself but mostly for fear purposes (be obedient or Santa Claus won't give you anything, be obedient or you're going to Hell, be obedient or you'll get in trouble). So the nature of morality at this stage is definitely pre-cognitive, mostly in the form of conditioning and emotions.

Perhaps it can be questioned whether this is really morality at all, but it is morality insofar as it gives us a way to distinguish between right and wrong, just not a very good one. Basically, the little child does have an answer to why things are right or wrong : "because mom said so".

Stage 2 : Compounding the first stage are three new factors. First, narrativism at this stage is now used, in the form of stories and myths, to implicitly impart more complex attitudes through concretes. Secondly, the brain has developed, and most of our abilities are now in place. So on the one hand, you have instincts and emotions - the psycho-epistemology - that is fully developed and expressing itself in the body of the teenager. You also have other mental abilities gained, such as the realization that one is an individual, that one needs to do certain things in order to live well, that there are other individuals, that these individuals have distinct thoughts and values, and that other people have the same kind of feelings we do, all of which form an epistemic foundation (that can be disabled to a certain extent in children with autism).

It is my hypothesis that this dynamic in fact forms what Freud called the id (instincts and emotions), ego (moral maturation) and superego (order-based morality), as well as the "battle" between the "heart" (instincts and emotions) and the "head" (moral maturation). There is a lot of complexity but little means to solve dissonance. So there is a "struggle", and why the notion of "struggle" is a common theme in how culture views morality. On stage 1 and 3, there is much less struggle.

So the nature of morality at this stage is more complex, between pre-cognitive impulses and cognitive formulations. While a person at this stage can express simplistic moral principles, or in some cases express values, the reasoning behind these principles takes place "behind the scenes" and will likely only become conscious in cases of conflict.

Stage 3 : The role of philosophy is to make explicit our assumptions and reasoning, so at this stage everything should be, at least in principle, conscious, even though all the previous stages are still there in the background (the psycho-epistemology does not dissapear just because epistemology comes to the front). An understanding of causal facts, mediated by our personal values, is the origin of moral principles. I don't really need to expand on this stage because I've already described it more than enough before, and it is not relevant to Christianity.

Where does Christianity fit in this scheme ? It is definitely not stage 2 or 3 : Christianity contradicts most of our moral assumptions (from all stage 2 processes) dead-on, and there is no desire to make moral principles or reasoning explicit in Christianity or in the Bible. Certainly Christians are capable of expressing moral opinions, which differentiates them from babies, but this may be simply a consequence of the fact that adults can express themselves, period.

Either way, the transmission of morality in Christianity is definitely stage 1 - the level of small children. This is why I call it "regressive". As I said, there are two elements in this, which are orders from a parent figure and narrativism with the goal of implanting fear. This is what Christianity is, and all that it is. So we have God handing down commandments and being the ultimate source of morality, and also myths and parables designed to make one fear "immorality" (according to the story-teller's values), the wrath of God, Hell, and so on.

So at that level there are no values and virtues, except in a tenuous way, if only because any behaviour can be fitted to some values or virtues. This explains why Chrisitanity does not have explicit values or virtues - it would destroy the whole point of it. If we look at the behaviour of Christians, what they idolize, we can see, for example, that they loved the movie "The Passion of the Christ". This seems to indicate that victimhood, sacrifice and injustice are important Christian virtues. Also, the interest with the story of Moses aganist the Egyptians, and the Flood, also indicate very evil virtues. A sociologist would be required to make an inventory, and I'm woefully unqualified, but I think popular culture can give us a good idea.

There is still a lot of moral struggle for Christians, because they are old enough to have natural morality, which inevitably clashes with Christian repression. There are many ways for Christians to deal with this, including ignoring the conflict, projecting their own values into the Christian narratives, or trying to repress their natural morality.

Post a Comment


At 10/04/2005 1:49 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

It makes perfect sense. I think that having the Christian morality in stage 1 is actually conductive to its brainwashing of youth. Get em while theyre young.

Children already identify with a "because authority X says so" mentality, and Christianity is rooted in exactly that. This makes Christianity very sellable to children. Indeed, most Christian adults have been Christian since they were children, and conversion to this cult is highest among children.

At 10/04/2005 3:50 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Jesus Christ! Why isnt anyone commenting? Seriously, Goosing the Antithesis is the best atheist blog on the internet (right alongside Kill The Afterlife: the best anti-afterlife/materialist blog on the internet).

So where the hell are the commenters? I think I AM was right. He told me that although our blogs are of premium quality, they are a little too deep and/or intellectual for the average Joe. We are too good for our own good!

But fuck that. Its lonelier at the top but I dont care. Id rather maintain the intellectual/depth standards we have and keep our niche rather than dumb it down for mass market appeal.

At 10/04/2005 4:37 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

Being self-congradulatory much, Aaron ? ;)

Seriously, I think you're partly right, although we did use to have a lot more comments. Maybe people liked the Manata-bickering more. I found it boring, personally. There is so much more to talk about.

At 10/04/2005 5:38 PM, Blogger Brandon declaimed...

I enjoy the blog immensly but I find myself rereading it several times before I get the gist of it all but I thoroughly enjoy them and they allow me to get a one-up on the Christians who think they are solidified in their faith...

At 10/04/2005 6:19 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Thanx for the compliments Brandon!

And yes Franc, I am being self-congratulatory. We deserve it. We rock. LOL!

I mean, there are plenty good atheist blogs out there that I read regularly. But our blogs go deeper I think. They address more of the foundational concepts. I suppose that it makes for heavy reading.

At 10/16/2005 5:04 PM, Blogger A. Rivera declaimed...

Came here from the Carnival of the Godless. I found the post interesting, and like Mr. Kinney points out, it does make sense. I am a recovering Catholic, and the more I read and question, the more a scheme like the one described makes perfect sense. It does come down to a brainwash, and it is often done at the more sensitive stages for children. Keep on blogging and giving the rest of us something to think about.

At 10/16/2005 8:59 PM, Blogger Goddam Liberal declaimed...

Also came here from COTG. I think it's useful to distinguish between morality and ethics. Morality is something handed down from above, whether it's tablets of stone or the parent saying: "because I said so." Ethics is a code of conduct you figure out for yourself and adopt voluntarily. That's why professionals in various careers, e.g. doctors, realtors etc. have a code of ethics rather than a code of morality. Humanity needs to dump the primitive "morality" of christ-insanity and similar religions and become familiar with the concept of ethics. And we need to do it bloody soon, before the religious lunatics destroy us all!

At 10/17/2005 1:09 PM, Blogger ethan declaimed...

"This is why I call it "regressive". As I said, there are two elements in this, which are orders from a parent figure and narrativism with the goal of implanting fear. This is what Christianity is, and all that it is."

A Christian would acknowledge that morality was, yes, passed down by God and these same morals or rather virtues are also beneficial to the social contract. Hamarabi's (sp) Code exemplifies that those two are not necessarily exclusive positions to hold.

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At 12/19/2007 4:21 PM, Blogger Kyle declaimed...

Although I understand your position on this topic and agree that there are far too many Christians who have such a simple faith that their morality never goes beyond doing what doesn't make God mad, I think that your main preposition is very stereotypical. The black/white dimension of Christian morality is just a small part of the picture. In fact, Jesus pointed out how narrowminded and undeveloped the early Jews viewed the Jewish Law.

As a Christian, as with a baby, morality might start out in stage 1, but it must grow if it is to truly become a true Christian morality.

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