The Good and the Generous

I just ordered a great pair of earrings. I got them at the Richard Dawkins website (A Clear Thinking Oasis) for $22.95. They are beaded, amber, in the shape of double-helix-es, and they are also available in other groovy colours. Being a spring natural, amber looks great on me. And they go with most of my wardrobe.

Richard says we don’t need religion to be good and generous. I agree with him. What we do need is a good heart. But has this always been true? For someone who understands so much about evolution, where does he think humans learned to be good and generous?

I don’t think there is any reading of history that presents evidence that human beings are innately good and generous. In fact, there is a wealth of evidence to the contrary. It seems we have attained the virtues of goodness and generosity that we now take for granted very, very slowly.

We seem to have forgotten that the idea of loving one’s neighbour and turning the other cheek were once radical concepts that went viral two thousand years ago. The fact that they are now thoroughly embedded in a secular society is due to great hardship and suffering on the parts of many of our ancestors who were willing to go to the lion pit to defend these concepts, and change the trajectory of history.

And of course, whenever human nature is involved, things become very complex. The corruption of the good and the generous into institutions that oppressed and tortured it’s fellow human beings was to be expected really, considering that oppression and torture were de rigueur (and still are in many places where human nature reigns unchecked). The crusades and the inquisitions were not a Christian idea. They did not appear as an isolated event against a backdrop of people going about their business, cooperatively building a better world. They were a continuation of a long tradition of humans trying to get it over one another.

Richard Dawkins claims to be evidence based, and there is much evidence to show that goodness and generosity are religious ideas. Although we no longer need religion as a vehicle, without it, who knows where we would be? For me the more interesting questions that go to the heart of things are about what we really are under the veneer of civilisation we take for granted?

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