The Sacred and the Humane

Another article from The Times that I thought was interesting, again about the nature of religion, God, etc.  It’s called “The Sacred and the Humane.” As is often the case, I find myself frustrated by a very narrow definition of religion, and I think this divides us when it needn’t.  In this, the central question is whether the concept of human rights belongs to the religious or the secular, siding with the secular and asserting that this is an important distinction.  Biletzki’s arguments are interesting, logical and well-reasoned, but I don’t buy his assertion that it matters.  I would argue that the wellspring really is the same, and articles like this (as well as any that might claim that the idea of human rights springs from some personified, sentient deity) divide us over the very things that, at their hearts, unite us.

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Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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9 Responses to The Sacred and the Humane

  1. Fowl Ideas says:

    People are not nice by nature, but they do tend to behave nice when their victims demonstrate the ability the cause significant harm.

    • admin says:

      This is not at all my experience. It is completely in my nature to try to be kind and helpful; that’s a big part of why I’m a teacher. I am not a remotely fearful person. I don’t assess many people as threats. I am kind because I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

  2. Fowl Ideas says:

    I judge the world by the Rule of Most:

    Most people can be relied upon to behave in a manner that is Mostly civilized Most of the time. But I never lose sight of the fact that the behavioral characteristics that allowed our species to rise to the top of the food chain are never far below the surface.

    • admin says:

      Current scientific study shows that characteristics such as altruism and cooperation have a genetic basis. It may well be, in fact, that these are the qualities that allowed our species to rise to the top of the food chain. Also, you’ve contradicted your original assertion that people only behave nicely “when their victims demonstrate the ability the cause significant harm.” This says we all see one another as potential victims to our predatory urges at all times, held in check only by fear of “significant harm.” That would mean all of us would be engaging in continuous overt battles for dominance. It would not mean people were mostly civilized most of the time.

  3. Fowl Ideas says:

    Altruism does have a genetic basis but it’s a very selective and unreliable form of behavior. The two institutions upon which our society depends for its survival, capitalism and democracy cater to the individual’s tendency to place his own needs ahead of all other considerations.

    I did not contradict my original assertion. I said that people “tend” to behave nice, not people “only behave nicely.” It’s common experience that people are far more likely to show respect for someone else’s needs when that individual is known to be powerful and able to cause harm. Those who are relatively powerless are dependent upon the Rule of Most for their well being. The Rule of Most says that most people are not actively predatory or parasitic at any particular moment and will often assist those in need if they do not perceive the needy individual to be burdensome or intentionally parasitic.

    And don’t forget the personality type who will risk life and limb to save another person’s life when the cameras are rolling but wouldn’t cross the sidewalk to save him otherwise. These are the guys who start homes on fire so they can conveniently be jogging by when a crowd is there to witness him running out of a burning building with a terrified child in his arms.

    • admin says:

      True, you did say “tend to” rather than “only.” At the same time, “…when their victims demonstrate the ability the cause significant harm” is quite different than “if they do not perceive the needy individual to be burdensome or intentionally parasitic.” As I said, I’m pretty altruistic, but I have little patience for people who are “intentionally parasitic.” I would also say that, for every person who wouldn’t help without a camera, there’s at least one for whom that’s not a factor. I can’t back that with hard facts, but I’d venture to guess, you can’t either. I just know a whole lot of basically decent people and a smaller number of jerks.

      In all fairness, I am often surprised when I ask my students what course of action they would take under certain circumstances and they answer in a way that I would consider clearly self-serving to the point of immorality.

  4. Fowl Ideas says:

    Your students have learned that much of what passes for civility today is little more than a facade. Altruism is admired by many, but only after you’ve proven that you’re a realist by accumulating significant wealth or power. Altruists who have their hearts in the right place but are relatively poor or ordinary are widely perceived to be silly idealists dreaming of a utopian world that will never be.

    Consider my personal pet peeve; bullying.

    With all of the talk shows, newsprint, and legislative posturing expended on the subject, do adolescents routinely hear adults making strong, negative statements about the character of bullies and their enablers or the practice of bullying? Do adults boycott sporting events where known bullies are participating? Do they even stay away from professional games where the players have been convicted of serious felonies? The answer on all counts is “no” and kids know it.

    Kids know instinctively when adults mean it and when they’re just making noise.

    • admin says:

      What can I say? I’m a bona fide “silly idealist,” and though I don’t dream of a utopian world that will never be, I believe that I can make a difference. You already know how I feel about sports. I don’t get them, so I don’t get the whole idolization aspect. My English colleagues and I have talked about various sports figures who are known for their bad behavior, and none of them speak well of those players.

      The closest I can come to what you’re talking about, I used to think Mel Gibson was hot, but then he went on his anti-semetic rant and is an obvious misogynist, and since all that became clear, he makes me kind of queasy. I certainly don’t go to his movies.

  5. admin says:

    Aw, hell, I dunno. I’m reading posts from the conservatives I know over on Facebook, and I think you’re right, FI. Many people don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone but themselves. Grrrrrrrr.

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