The moral messages of religious myths (2) 5

In our post No problem for atheists (June 28, 2017), we include a video clip of Professor Jordan Peterson (whom we much admire and usually agree with on political issues) in which he talked about myths of religion.

We quote from that post:

[Professor Jordan Peterson] thinks that atheists such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins do not realize that the ethics they take for granted are predicated on a long tradition of moral principles encapsulated in the myths of religion. The myths convey, down through the ages, the “higher”, the “transcendent” morality – which, he says, “can be personified in the idea of God”.  Those moral principles, he suggests, are not just divinely revealed, they can be said to define and constitute the Divine itself.

The implication is that at certain moments in ancient history, revelations of some “transcendent” moral truths were imparted to certain men. If not by a god at least from some source of divine wisdom. And because these come from that “higher” source, they are the right guides for human behavior.

So they possess, in Professor Peterson’s opinion – as in the opinion of his fellow believers – a validity for all human beings for as long as the human race exists.

Subsequently we critically examined the myth of “the Fall”, the story of Adam and Eve, in our post The moral messages of religious myths (1), (June 29, 2017).

Here now are some observations on the story of Cain and Abel.

First, here is the story as told in Chapter 4 of the Book of Genesis, verses 1-17, in the King James Version of the Hebrew bible:

 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.  And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.  And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.  And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:  But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.  And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?  If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.  And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.  And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?  And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.  And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand;  When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.  And Cain said unto the Lord, My punishment is greater than I can bear.  Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me.  And the Lord said unto him, Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold. And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him.  And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and bare Enoch: and he builded a city, and called the name of the city, after the name of his son, Enoch.

What are we told?

The first man and woman had two sons. [No mention is made of daughters.]

One son, Abel, raised sheep. The other son, Cain, cultivated the land for plant food.

Abel took some of his mutton and made a [burnt] offering of it to God. Cain did the same with some of his vegetables.

God in some way not told indicated that he accepted the offering of Abel and rejected the offering of Cain.

Cain, apparently out of jealousy, killed Abel.

God punished Cain. He told him he’d have a much harder time in future raising food, and he would henceforth be a fugitive and vagabond.

Cain complained that “every one” who found him as fugitive and vagabond would kill him.

To save him from this, God put a mark on him. [We are not told what the mark looked like, where on him it was put, or how it signaled to those who would kill him that God forbade them to do so – or who these people are who have suddenly appeared upon the earth.]

Cain left the vicinity of Eden (from which his father and mother had been exiled)  and moved east to a land called Nod (when and by whom is not told). There he and his wife – presumably a sister of his – have a son called Enoch.

There follows, in the next few verses (not quoted), a list of Enoch’s descendants. His sons and grandsons all have wives. A female descendant is mentioned.

What messages can we extract from the story?

Our common ancestor was a murderer. A fratricide.

God likes meat (fatty meat), not vegetables.

Can anything in the story provide a message of eternal validity for all people at all times?

That killing is wrong?

That fratricide is wrong? 

That it is wrong not to be our brothers’  keepers?

That we are all brothers and it is wrong to kill each other?

(Certainly not that it is wrong for a man to marry his sister.)

Whatever the wrong is, it  is not to be punished by death but by hardship.

What moral message of eternal validity does Professor Peterson extract from the story?

He lays stress on the “sacrifice”.  

Here is a link to a YouTube video in which he talks about it at some length (starting on the subject of Cain and Abel and their sacrifices at about the 8.50 mark).

He asks, ‘Why do people make sacrifices to God?” He observes that some of his students, or their families, may have made sacrifices in order to pay for them to go to university, his implication being that we can all understand the idea of sacrifice. We give up something in the hope that by doing so we gain something else that we desire.

He says that “before the invention of electricity or even fire” [?], people looked up at the lights in the night sky. They saw the infinite (“the fact of the infinite”, he says], and thought that “God resides there”.  That, he says, is not a primitive idea, it is “an intelligent and creative hypothesis”.

Having hypothesized that God resides up there, “You burn something  and the smoke rises” and “God gets a crack at determining the quality of your offering”.  

We cannot see that sacrificing something to God in the hope of getting something else – traditionally in many religions that something else being prosperity, progeny, good health, long life, ultimately heaven – is anything more than superstition.

He might say we belittle the story. We think he magnifies its significance as an eternally valid moral lesson about sacrifice.

We might agree more if the chief message of the story is that it is wrong to kill, and that we have a moral duty to each other, at least of restraint. To us that is a rational assumption in the interest of self-preservation, while to him it is a principle taught to us by this religious myth.   

We rely on our readers to correct us if we have overlooked something in the story that makes it convey, down through the ages, the “higher, transcendent morality”.

Posted under Christianity, Judaism, Religion general by Jillian Becker on Friday, July 21, 2017

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Regulating speech: torture by pronoun 4

In Canada the English language is being changed by law to pander to the eccentric whim of a very small minority of the population.

The Forum Research poll, commissioned by the National Post and taken twice in June to confirm its accuracy, found that 5% of Canadians identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

To please a part of  this 5% for whom their sex is an overwhelmingly important national issue, the Canadian Senate has passed Bill C-16.  If the Governor-General signs it, the compulsion to use politically correct “gender expressions” will become part of the Canadian Human Rights Code, and disobeying the law will be categorized as a “hate crime”  under the Criminal Code, punishable by fines or jail time.

Professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto – champion of freedom and reason – not only condemns the law, he has declared that he will not use the newly coined pronouns, so he is under attack by both the university administration and a mob of students who pretend that he is victimizing them.

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Unless Professor Peterson manages to persuade the politically correct federal government of Canada not to do this, Canadians must start learning the new pronouns, and henceforward speak always with great caution, or risk criminal prosecution.

Here’s what they must learn. We quote:

Pronouns – A How To Guide

Pronoun cards 2016-01

Pronoun cards 2016-02

Nor will we speak as we’re told if any such law is passed in the United States.

Fortunately, at least for the present, we have President Trump to protect us from torture by pronoun.

Posted under Canada, Leftism, Sex, tyranny, Videos by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, June 20, 2017

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