Wednesday, May 07, 2014

The good old days...

It makes me cringe sometimes when I hear people bleating on about how our "modern society" is going to the dogs and everything was so much better and people were so much nicer in the past. This trope is a particular favourite of religious apologists of course who like to make an illusionary linkage between morality and their particular deity. I suppose the logic goes something along the lines of - my religion is correct and is synonymous with good morals and there was much more religion in the past, therefore there was much better morality in the past. It's a fallacy of course, religion has very little to do with actual morality as the statistics on crime, homicide and death in conflict since the middle ages clearly show. Simply by virtue of there being so many different flavours with strictly parochial goals it's clear to see that morality is not God given, it's a human construct, something that changes and evolves as our different societies evolve and our local interests change; it's important to be vigilant, values can go down as well as up.

Any notion of increased violence in the world over time is complete bunkum, in the developed world (and most of the undeveloped world) the statistical rate of violent death has declined hugely over the last few millennia, this is a fact when measured properly, i.e. as a rate per head of population. For example the homicide rate in five European countries runs from 100 per 100,000 head of population in 1500 through to approximately 1 in 2000 (Eisner 2003) The execution rate in the USA starts at 80-90 per 100,000 population in the 1600s and is now bubbling along at much less than 1 (Espy & Smykla, 2002) The world (on average) is currently enjoying record low values of crime, death and homicide.

Of course if you want a glimpse of what things used to be like when theocracies based upon ancient scripture ruled the roost then take a look at Nigeria, religiously inspired groups of extremists are terrorising Northern parts of that country by kidnapping young girls, converting them to Islam and then selling them off to the highest bidder as wives, sex workers or just plain slaves. Some might say "what has this got to do with religion", everything in my view. It might be fair to say that this kind of barbarity has nothing to do with religion as practised today by educated people (of any faith) who are products of increasing state secularisation and the enlightenment. However, just look at the Bible and the Koran to read about the morals the Abrahamic God(s) supposedly espoused. People at that time treated prisoners, slaves and Women as property, it was quite acceptable, the stories and texts simply codified those values and called it "revelation", anyone can see precisely where these repulsive ideas come from. The Boko Haram  terrorists are simply taking a literal view of their spiritual hand book which to be fair clearly condones this kind of behaviour and has probably been drummed into them since they were small children. Christians shouldn't be feeling smug at this point either as the old testament of the Bible condones this exact same thing as well (Deuteronomy 21:10-14).

I'm sure the good people of Nigeria can defeat these terrorist gangs, especially with the help of American technology, but the problem is a much wider one than this localised issue, we not only need to defeat such people where ever they terrorise innocents, we need to defeat their literalistic ideas too.

No comments: