Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/5/2019: Knaves, Idiots, And Fools” [Item #6]

The Horror! It’s an outrage! Send it to Hell! Well, not Hell, exactly, because that would be acknowledging religion. OK, let me start again…

Ethics Alarms used to have its own in-house atheist activist, and this is one of the times that I miss him: he would undoubtedly have a fascinating rebuttal to this Comment of the Day. I’m old enough to remember when Madalyn Murray O’Hair was the most hated woman in America for challenging the Constitutionality of school prayer, and winning.  (Remind me to tell the story of the time I spoke to O’Hair on a call-in TV talk show, posing as God.) Although I have come to agree that she was right (she later said she wished she hadn’t raised the issue), it still seems to me that atheists are more obsessed with religion than most religious people are, and their passionate antipathy borders on the pathological. The SCOTUS case that sparked this COTD is a good example: is it really necessary to attack a nearly one hundred year old war memorial because the design is a cross?

Here is Steve-O-in NJ’s Comment of the Day on item #6 in the post, “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/5/2019: Knaves, Idiots, And Fools”:

This isn’t the first one of these cross lawsuits, as has been discussed here a few times, and it sure as the devil won’t be the last. The problem isn’t really even with atheism, at least as the title for those who never have believed or choose not to believe in any god or gods. The First Amendment’s about as clear as any law can be that no one here can be forced to believe or disbelieve anything. America is still over 70% religious, and those religious Americans are overwhelmingly Christian, though how strongly so is up for discussion. Those who belong to no particular religion vary almost as much as those who do, from people raised in whatever faith who just drifted away at some point in life and never went back, to those raised without any faith who just never bothered with it, to agnostics, who think the presence of God is beyond knowing, to those who think religion’s all a bunch of hooey and choose to have nothing to do with it. It’s a minority of non-believers who are actively hostile to religion, but, unfortunately, those are the ones that get all the press.

As someone who is at least nominally a Catholic, and as someone who strongly dislikes one particular faith (Islam) I will venture a guess that those who dislike religion generally feel and think about it the way I do about that one particular faith I dislike. We can also both marshal some arguments that sound compelling. I can say that Islamic thought is incompatible with the Western way of doing things, that their history is checkered and shows an unhealthy propensity to impose itself by violence, and that a lot of their holy scriptures are downright scary. However, those opposed to religion generally can also say that ancient religion generally isn’t compatible with a world of the internet and surgery and science, that religion doesn’t have the greatest history generally, and that most holy scriptures are problematic, including the Bible, which, at least in the Old Testament, got the most basic moral question, slavery, wrong. Of course all these arguments are simplistic as phrased, and aren’t so absolute when you look at them in more detail, but that takes time and thought. The difference is, though, if I speak out against Islam, (which I have) I have to tread carefully lest I be deemed a hater, while those who speak out against all religion are not deemed haters.

The problem is that this minority who are hostile to religion are treated differently than those who speak out against one particular religion (though at least in the US, their hostility is overwhelmingly anti-Christian). This is despite the fact that a lot of their rhetoric, especially away from carefully phrased stuff like “an atheist believes a deed must be done rather than a prayer said, and that a hospital should be built instead of a church,” is just as insulting as that directed against particular religions. Yet for whatever reason, an atheist who talks about someone else’s “Sky Fairy” or “Imaginary Friend” isn’t viewed the same way as I would be if I referred to “their moon god (due to the Islamic use of the crescent)” or “Mohammed the pedophile bandit (Mohammed did do some raiding and one of his wives was a girl who’d be considered a child today).” I don’t see why the former insults are any less slurs than the latter, which a lot of people would be all over me if I actually uttered them.

To some degree this is because those hostile to religion portray themselves as Spock-like logical intellectuals who are the smartest people in the room and who don’t believe precisely because they are so much smarter than everyone else. The media lets them get away with this because a lot of the left-leaners there are hostile to religion too.

I honestly don’t know what moves people like the American Humanist Association in this case, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which I believe would be more accurately titled the Hatred Of Religion Foundation, to search this country for individuals claiming offence at cross-shaped memorials and public meetings that open with invocations, then send letters or bring suits on their behalf to attempt to get the prayer to which anyone is free not to say “amen” stopped or the offending cross removed.

I believe it is significant that they often target smaller towns and public entities, since those are more likely to roll over without a fight to save scarce public money. I believe it is also significant that these organizations have essentially built a fairly lucrative way of generating legal fees by seeking out and, in some cases, stoking division and the feeling of being offended. Honestly, I don’t see who benefits from a lawsuit over a Celtic cross in the park honoring an Irish regiment in the Civil War or the non-sectarian Fireman’s Prayer engraved on a monument to fallen firemen by City Hall other than the lawyers.

I might add, I believe that if there were a monument to victims of the Holocaust with a Star of David on the grounds of a courthouse (as there is near me) or a monument to the mistreated Japanese in WWII on public land that had a Torii (gateway that marks the entrance to a Japanese shrine) on it (though that’s probably more on the West Coast), or a “peace garden” in a public park that had the Hindu “om” symbol somewhere on it, no one would touch any of these things, although technically they would be the same issue. Their main problem is with crosses, especially those erected to honor those icky veterans who fought for oppression or the emergency services who include the police who target young black men. If it’s a cross to the victims of the potato famine or slavery, or the Armenian genocide (I’ve seen all of these) they won’t touch it, because the publicity they’d get would be a net negative.

However, in this case, it’s a grave marker style cross, put up to honor fallen soldiers from a war there are now no living veterans of (the last WWI vet in the US died in 2015), and it’s very prominent. Apparently a few of these non-believers are triggered by driving past it, and we can’t have that, otherwise there’s Christian privilege and we’re being unsuitably inclusive. Never mind the fact that it was originally built with private funds on private land, and only taken over by the government because a road was built through the area, public land is public land. Never mind the fact that it is clearly marked with the symbol of the American Legion and bears not one religious word on it, a cross is a cross is a cross. Never mind the fact that it has never been used for a religious ceremony, it can’t be separated from the religious element. Never mind the fact that it’s been there for 93 years and no one’s said a word, someone’s saying something now, and an old wrong is still a wrong.

It all goes back to the idea of the left wanting a monopoly on honor, and being able to tell everyone else who they can honor, when they can honor them, and how they can honor them. The taking down of one more traditional symbol of honor to traditional heroes is a victory for them, that they can point to and say “See, this is one more victory for us. We took down your symbol, and there’s nothing you can do about it, so you better get with the program.”

24 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 3/5/2019: Knaves, Idiots, And Fools” [Item #6]

  1. Those who belong to no particular religion vary almost as much as those who do, from people raised in whatever faith who just drifted away at some point in life and never went back, to those raised without any faith who just never bothered with it, to agnostics, who think the presence of God is beyond knowing, to those who think religion’s all a bunch of hooey and choose to have nothing to do with it. It’s a minority of non-believers who are actively hostile to religion, but, unfortunately, those are the ones that get all the press.

    In my view, one has to carefully and philosophically examine the history and the context of activism through which the underlying principles of Christian religion have became irrelevant. If one no longer can conceive of a transcendent, higher order, or can only imagine such in some abstract manner, and if there is no genuine spiritual connection, in essence the notion is unreal and irrelevant. What that means, ultimately, is that one can only define oneself through material, embodied existence. In fact, it is the so-called *atheist* who dominates in that realm, which is to say in our world. It is a horizontal reality that they dominate, and the vertical dimension simply does not exist. Or, if it exists, it exists in a kind of mangled, ghost-like form.

    While it is true that still there is a large percentage of ‘believers’ in America, when one examines the range of their beliefs, and considers the American-born faiths: Pentecostalism, Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventism, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Southern Baptism and Fundamentalism, and African-American and American Indian spirituality, it is fair to say that these *bizarre* mutations of Christianity that are part of the American scene, that are part of the American mind and *metaphysic*, are symptomatic of the destruction of the faith in a cohesive sense. (I base this on Harold Bloom’s semi-formal religious study in the book The American Religion. What unifying principles run through each of these odd manifestations? Who looking at these strange mutant religions, and being unfriendly to religion generally, could not condemn the religious mind-set as semi-lunatic?

    The recovery of — permit me to say — a true, real, meaningful and valuable religious frame-of-view for Occidentals could only occur through a renovation of Greco-Christian principles. Essentially, theology. But a theology so foundational to the Occident that it is part-and-parcel of it. In order to recover that, one would have to understand the processes of fracturation that have brought Occidental man to a fractured state. In the larger sense I do not see how this could be denied. But I can see how it could not be seen nor recognized. That, in my view, is the essence of the problem: a lack of capacity and ability to grasp the most fundamental issue: a metaphysical crisis.

    I might add, I believe that if there were a monument to victims of the Holocaust with a Star of David on the grounds of a courthouse (as there is near me) or a monument to the mistreated Japanese in WWII on public land that had a Torii (gateway that marks the entrance to a Japanese shrine) on it (though that’s probably more on the West Coast), or a “peace garden” in a public park that had the Hindu “Om” symbol somewhere on it, no one would touch any of these things, although technically they would be the same issue.

    In this sense the Star of David, and Jewish plight, has almost zero religious dimension. The Holocaust and the events of Europe have a very very strange *meaning* in our present that has almost no connection with the principles of Occidental religion. In one sense the Religion of the Holocaust has replaced ‘genuine religiosity’ by imposing a surrogate.

    The Destruction of the European Jews replaces the sacrifice of Christ, and resurrection is uniquely a retributive process which extends into our very view of ourselves and the present. The Holocaust (for Jews) is an event that cannot actually be processed through a religious lens, or perspective, or interpretation. How would that be done if it could be done? How would it be interpreted? It has no spiritual or transcendent dimension. It is an absolutely material and historical event with meaning only in that realm. I admit that these are difficult ideas and problematic assertions. But, if one wants to *understand our present* one has to will to penetrate difficult topics. Otherwise, one will remain in a half-focussed shadow-realm. (And this is part of the problem!)

  2. P.S. Jack, I’m not sure an atheist response to what I said would be that fascinating. As I pointed out in a recent post, I’m almost 50 years old, I know you’ve been around longer, and I think both of us have heard all the atheist arguments. Some hold some water, like the argument that the Establishment Clause should be strictly enforced, and the more prominent the symbol the more strictly it should be, so while a 6-foot cross in one corner of a park might be one thing, this is too big and too prominent (an argument, but there’s more to this issue than that). Others are just distraction (“what if this were a 40-foot statue of Satan?”), weaponization of inclusivity (“not all veterans were Christian, and it’s not fair that they feel left out”), fragility (“it’s not ok to stigmatize those who aren’t Christian”), arrogance combined with selective/not quite accurate smarts(“don’t you know most of the Founding Fathers were deist?”) and insults (“Sky Fairy,” “Imaginary Friend,” “Invisible Man In the Sky”), or some combination thereof.

    Sorry, but atheist arguments are boring, predictable, and, at least in this case, easily parried. The fact that this wasn’t built originally on public land but taken by the public entity with the understanding the memorial would stay, the otherwise secular character of the monument, and its age coupled with its time in its current state all stand in its favor. This isn’t a 40-foot statue of Satan, that’s not before the court, please don’t introduce the absurd. This isn’t a monument to all veterans, but to specific ones from a specific war, who from their names appear to all be Christian. Presumably their families could have objected to their inclusion at the time if they were not. No one is being stigmatized as inferior by this, that is an individual interpretation. No, the Founding Fathers weren’t professed Deists, not even religious freedom advocate TJ, who remained a member of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church until the end of his days. If you have to resort to slanging or insulting the other side, your arguments are weak.

    Honestly, although people without faith are generally as good or bad as those with, militant atheists are generally just un-fun killjoys. They’re like you have the parade all set up and ready to go, and just before the drum major’s whistle sounds a cloudburst comes out of nowhere and pours down on top of everything, or you’ve been carefully grilling for an hour and you’re just about done, and suddenly the grill flares and burns everything to a crisp. Whether the snooty, supercilious types like Richard Dawkins or the bullies like Craig Stephen Hicks, frankly, they are a net negative to the world.

    • Sorry, but atheist arguments are boring, predictable, and, at least in this case, easily parried.

      No, they are not. They are *fatal* arguments that are potent enough to kill. To resurrect the dead is difficult indeed.

      Excuse me for acting as I always act, and saying what I always say, and for *causing trouble* — as indeed I must — but neither you nor Jack could put a coherent argument together to protect the right of a cross or any other religious symbol to remain in place. But, if one were attempted it would be a sentimental or perhaps *nostalgic* argument. Nor could you-plural make any coherent defense of the principle upon which Christian religion stands, and without which it falls.

      Since it falls to me to delve into these topics, and to be the one to *explain* what is happening in our present in a more spiritual (as opposed to merely a jurisprudential) sense, well, I accept the challenge! (Please don’t be mad at me for being arrogant and bold: a) it can lead to interesting conversation, and b) I was born thus deformed.)

        • OK! But there are two divisions, just to be clear.

          1) …but neither you nor Jack could put a coherent argument together to protect the right of a cross or any other religious symbol to remain in place. But, if one were attempted it would be a sentimental or perhaps *nostalgic* argument.

          This is the easy part. When I say that you couldn’t put together a coherent argument for religious symbols to remain when sponsored or maintained by government, I mean that there are no good arguments. That is, that those who make a case against these public displays have a nearly hermetic argument. If I am right, Jack said as much in this blog-post when he wrote “although I have come to agree that she [Madalyn Murray O’Hair ] was right”. If an argument were put forward, it could only be a sentimental one or one that appealed to the consideration of the ones who wanted the symbol removed. It may be mean, ridiculous or petty that they want them removed, but their arguments are sound as it pertains to interpretation of the laws.

          Do you agree or disagree?

          2) Nor could you-plural make any coherent defense of the principle upon which Christian religion stands, and without which it falls.

          This is far more difficult an issue. First, Jack would not attempt to make any such argument because theology and religious belief is not his domain. And you are a member of a religion, but not a practitioner of it.

          You said: “As someone who is at least nominally a Catholic…”

          But you must understand that my questioning of you should not be taken as anything but done in the interest of interesting conversation on a Blog dedicated to the examination of ethics in a very tumultuous time. You would certainly be in your right not to answer and not to be subject to scrutiny. But it seemed to me, looking at the way you wrote the above, that if you are a Catholic in name, you might not be a Catholic in actual belief. But I make no presumption necessarily. The reason I call attention to this is because it is my view that no one can make a good argument because at a fundamental level *belief* has been undermined. Therefore, I have noticed that the theologians only ‘preach to the converted’ and cannot reach (convince) the non-converted.

          And that is why I say that you-plural (by which I really mean a larger *we*) “make any coherent defense of the principle upon which Christian religion stands, and without which it falls”.

          I take your reference to a ‘sword’ in good humor, as I think you meant it. But this is not an issue of swords. It is an issue of words and thus of logos . . . and finally of meanings.

          I suggest that presenting a case about how metaphysical belief has been undermined, and why we cannot avail ourselves of it, and how we are left bereft of it, is highly related to the chaos of our present. I think I have some interesting material that can help elucidate this deep problem.

          • Correction: And that is why I say that you-plural (by which I really mean a larger *we*) cannot “make any coherent defense of the principle upon which Christian religion stands, and without which it falls”.

      • Just because you choose to joust at windmills does not give you the right to disparage good old American kibitzing.

        My comment was humor. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and the grace to accept that others differ in opinion or presentation is something we used to call ‘maturity.’

        Oh, if you must have an answer to the question you asked: I am here because Jack always has donuts in the breakroom.

        • Just because you choose to joust at windmills…

          It is an interesting, but a complex, assessment. It is not as simple as it appears. It is an insult, obviously, but to counter it actually would amount to a more *insulting* statement: if telling the truth is an insult, and indeed it is!

          When people only have the option of *looking at surfaces* they lock themselves out of the possibility of a deeper understanding. But without deeper understanding one could only look at surfaces. If perception remains superficial, there is no hope of arriving at a solution, or a decision, or a sound policy, or a life-choice. Without decisiveness one is the *victim* of contingency: the constantly shifting landscape of passing events.

          This is one of primary things I notice here. That is not a criticism inspired by desire to inhibit conversation (as yours often are!) but an honest statement. And what else am I required, genuinely required, to do in response to the larger questions asked by the blog?!? Constantly, there is examination of surfaces without investigation of causation. This will just go on and on and on and on . . .

          If, on the other hand, one really takes things seriously, and takes oneself seriously, and takes the ‘temporal modality’ seriously, one must act intellectually serious. The time demands it. Ah, except for those who are only concerned for *surfaces*. Then, there is not really a philosophy of ethics, or a genuine grappling with the profound questions of living, or the dangerous conflicts in the present, but commentary on passing images as if it is entertainment. Like a telenovela. The essential question about ethics and ethical behavior is grounded in sentiments as to *how it feels*. But a sentimental relationship is a superficial relationship. There has to be a deeper level based in principle. And there is a deeper level.

          [I should also add that your rejection and I think open dismissal, with a clear Texas prejudice, of the combination of beans and eggs is a symptom of your own bias. I think you just don’t like beans!]

          • (sigh) There go more of our precious pixels… 🙂

            1. No insult was intended. You are responsible for reading such into a gentle teasing, done in love and longsuffering. There is no insult in what I wrote, and looking for convoluted deep dark hidden meaning is all on you.

            I have explained how large missives done daily defeat your espoused purpose of reaching others, and so have the humor to tease you about it. You be you, Alizia. (hmmm… I like the sound of ‘large missives done daily defeat.’ So my new comment will be shortened to ‘lmddd.’)

            2. I do not ‘desire to inhibit conversation,’ I desire to inhibit pages long monologues.

            3. “…one must act intellectually serious.” I dispute that blanket statement. One must focus on what is most important, and attacking too many issues is futile. There is value in light discussion that does not plumb the depths; we are social beings. We do not have to unravel the secrets of the cosmos every.single.day.

            4. “I should also add that your rejection and I think open dismissal, with a clear Texas prejudice, ” Texas bias stipulated, owned, and celebrated!

            of the combination of beans and eggs is a symptom of your own bias.” Possibly. Even likely.

            I will also admit to the heresy (in South Texas) of excluding salsa from my juevos on the general principle that it is a gateway practice for more horrible things. Next one will accept ketchup in the juevos! Certain standards must be upheld, for the moral and civil good of society. My wife, of good (and pure) German extraction, is already corrupted, but at least my kids were raised right, however they choose to err in culinary etiquette.

            I think you just don’t like beans!” Objection, your Honor! Council is drawing a conclusion not in evidence!

            I happen to adore beans of every sort, lima, pinto, black, navy, or even (gasp!) ‘great northern.’ [insert mandatory damyankee comment here]

            Just leave my eggs alone.

            • We do not have to unravel the secrets of the cosmos every.single.day.

              But you do admit that, some day or other, you will have to confront the Larger Questions.

              Very well, but in your case could you at least try every.other.day? Or twice.a.week?

              I do not ‘desire to inhibit conversation,’ I desire to inhibit pages long monologues.

              Technically, that is incorrect. They are essays inspired by things people express and write on a blog dedicated to doing just that. But I will grant you that they could be represented, negatively, as monologues in a community of people who only show interest in focus on the superficial and do not wish to grapple with the profound.
              ____________________

              But, I do want to take a moment to talk about vinegar. This is something that is quite important to me. Get a bottle of good quality, robust red wine (whine about many things but you should not whine about that). Drink half. Add 10 oz. of a good Italian red vinegar and 2 tablespoons of Guiseppe Giusti Modena Balsamic Vinegar, shake a bit, and let the bottle stand open for 3-4 days. Then put the cork in and let it stand for 2 weeks.

              There. The best red wine vinegar that you have ever tasted.

              Are you allowed to even eat yuppie-like food in S Texas?

              • You will find that I DO address serious issues on a regular basis, if not a daily schedule. I think I did so twice yesterday (can I play hooky until the weekend now?)

                Larger questions have the disadvantage of requiring the sort of agreement to terms, definitions, and history that a blog format is unsuited for. Thus, the awkwardly long passages where you have to define everything. You do you.

                Nice spin on the ‘negative’ monologue comment. Do you understand that many (most?) simply skip over such long comments? This is a meeting of friends, preferably over a beer, and not a lecture hall full of philosophers. Speak to your audience in the manner they will understand if you would be effective, is my advice. You be you.

                Are you allowed to even eat yuppie-like food in S Texas?

                Actually, it is a provision of the surrender of The Confederacy that yuppie food must not only be tolerated but eaten at least once a year. The damyankees keep sending more people here to enforce this provision resulting from the War of Northern Aggression.

                So, to answer your question, I am FORCED to eat yuppie-like food by law.

                • Larger questions have the disadvantage of requiring the sort of agreement to terms, definitions, and history that a blog format is unsuited for. Thus, the awkwardly long passages where you have to define everything. You do you.

                  Well, some Hindu gurus say that delicate man is as suitable to the strangeness of life here as a fish is comfortable riding a bicycle. Yet we must (to push the metaphor) ride bicycles, must we not?

                  Thus, it does not matter what the blog is suited for. We must make the best of what we have.

                  Nice spin on the ‘negative’ monologue comment. Do you understand that many (most?) simply skip over such long comments? This is a meeting of friends, preferably over a beer, and not a lecture hall full of philosophers. Speak to your audience in the manner they will understand if you would be effective, is my advice. You be you.

                  Let them skip! I don’t desire to reach people who do not have the will-to-understand. It requires work. It is also an ethical demand. Not an *option*.

                  I am sorry about the yuppie-food. The following may cause you to pass out. It is quite delicious though.

                  1 lb tofu
                  4 tblsp tahini
                  4 tblsp tamari or soy sauce (to make it sufficiently salty)
                  1-4 clove garlic
                  4 tblsp sweet Japanese vinegar (like they make sushi rice with)
                  blend it all together with water.
                  1/4 cup olive oil

                  I add cumin and/or tikka masala. You can get creative — to the degree that a Texan can — with different spice combinations. It’s great as a salad dressing but also over Udon noodles or Japanese rice noodles.

                  The recipe came from some insane hippy who called herself The Tofu Queen of Bisbee Arizona. I am not kidding.

  3. If this case stands, how do we address Arlington National Cemetery?

    Arlington National Cemetery is full of religious symbols, on federal government land, erected by the federal government and ongoing care is paid for and conducted by the federal government.

    If this ruling stands, how do we not recognize that we head down the slippery slope that all of the religious memorials thought Arlington National Cemetery must come out?

    • Not just Arlington. All National Cemeteries allow friends or relatives to erect private headstones at a loved ones grave. There are restrictions on size, but not on ‘content’. My wife’s (she was an Air Force veteran) columbarium niche cover has an eagle on it. When I join her, there will be a Thor’s Hammer added.

      • I think Arlington is an exception, since typically the headstone has whatever religion the deceased was on it (cf. the fallen Captain Khan, whose father ranted that he would have been glad to lend Trump his copy of the Constitution), so no argument of disparate treatment could be made. I also think no atheist in his right mind would try to take on that cause, because it’s a losing cause and the publicity would be overwhelmingly negative.

        What I think we do need to be concerned about is that a victory for the American Humanist Association would make it open season on religion in public. It might not be that far of a step, for example, to disallowing churches from ringing their bells, since they are designed to be heard throughout a town, and maybe some fragile atheist doesn’t like the audible reminder of religion that he can’t ignore. It might not also be that far of a step from monuments in the shape of crosses to monuments of figures associated with religion. I can think of at least two statues of St. Joan of Arc, one in NYC, one in New Orleans, and one of Ladislas II Jagiello, who famously accepted Christianity for the Lithuanian people, and I’m sure there are others. It’s also not that far of a step to otherwise conventional monuments that have relatively innocuous blessings (like “may God grant them peace” on a war memorial) or other religious phrases (even “in the year of our Lord…”) on them.

        New York just ended a year-long “review of all symbols of hate” by a “specially appointed commission” which was mostly for show and ended with the destruction of no public monument and the moving of only one. Do we really want to get to the point where a liberal mayor or governor, who is either an atheist himself or who atheists have the ear of, can convene a “special commission” to review all public monuments in the jurisdiction and scrub any and all religious content from public view? That sounds way too close to the Muslims breaking Hindu idols or English Protestants destroying shrines to martyrs, or the early Soviets demolishing a cathedral to make way for a Palace of the Soviets (which was never built). That’s not what the First Amendment is all about.

  4. At the risk of wearying readers, here is the reply I just made to the original comment:-

    … the Bible, which, at least in the Old Testament, got the most basic moral question, slavery, wrong…

    Ah, no, thus:-

    – It’s clearly not “the most basic moral question”, not by a long chalk.

    – Taken in context, it’s actually spot on. It’s actually close to a life boat ethics/”these laws were given for your hardness of heart” sort of thing, a necessary evil. In a world close to the edge of survival, what do you do with captives, particularly prisoners of war? If you kill them out of hand, it’s worse than a crime, it’s a mistake because they will fight to the bitter end. If you release them once the war is over, not only do you have to go short to feed them until then, they might do as the Romans did after their defeat at the Caudine Forks and resume hostilities and maybe even win. The usual alternative was human sacrifice, like that of the Aztecs or the Grand Custom of Dahomey, because at least that way you get something you value for the price of fighting to the end. Slavery was actually least worst on that scale. (Oh, and freeing those born slaves or long enslaved, who were no longer a threat? Along with that feebleness, they couldn’t support themselves. There were even slave rebellions against emancipation out of fear of this.)

    The moral failing lay with those who took all that as a general moral principle, applying and endorsing it even when it was an unnecessary evil. Counter-intuitively, it was an error that the more moral were more prone to, to avoid the cognitive dissonance of admitting that what was once necessary was also evil; the same may be affecting Israeli thought today. As Roman thinkers knew, we hate those we hurt, not those who hurt us. But then it is hard to stop hurting – unless we can hurt dispassionately.

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