Dennis Pennington has commented that many Atheists carry much baggage from religion. I agree. One piece of baggage I am particularly bothered by is Romantic Primitivism. The myth of the Garden of Eden lives on in a wide spread belief life was better when humanity was still in its most primitive stage. We romanticise  about what life was like in more primitive society. 

These myths gained popularity when Rousseau wrote the Social Contract and the Origins of Inequality as answers to a questions put out by the Academy of Dijon "Whether the progress of the sciences and arts has contributed to corrupting the morals or purifying them?" and "What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?"

Rousseau's answers seem to have appealed to the same impulses of human reasoning as the myth of the Garden of Eden. He stated civilization had a corrupting influence and had created unnatural inequalities "Man is born free, yet everywhere I see him in chains." Yet every first hand account of meeting cultures in our more primitive state, such as Darwin's account of the aboriginals he met during the voyage of the Beagle report how brutal and difficult their existence was. 

When I took my grandchildren to see Avatar I was disturbed to see the negative light in which modern technical society was shown. I was equally disturbed to see the romantic light in which the aboriginal inhabitants were shown. This Romantic Primitivism is widespread in our cultural and political identity and I believe it is one of the more influential bits of baggage we have carried over from our religious roots. As Atheists shouldn't we be identifying and exorcising these bits of religious baggage?

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Comment by Loren Miller on December 3, 2013 at 11:16am

Some of what we've lost with the advent of civilization, Sharon, I think is the product of being LAZY, of people who are tired of dealing with their day-to-day responsibilities and want to shuffle that onto someone or something else.  Right now, I'm in the middle of a discussion on another board about the advent of autonomous vehicles, cars that drive themselves, reducing those on board to passenger status only.  Being a sports car enthusiast and a long-time manual transmission driver, as well as being an engineer and troubleshooter, I am leery of such developments and all too cognizant of how they can go wrong.  While I admire the technical achievement it represents, I am enough of a Luddite to think that I am still a better driver than it is.  On top of that, I'm capable of doing something behind the wheel no machine will ever know: enjoying the experience.

One of the benefits of having sophistication is being able to selectively relinquish it, of driving a Triumph Spitfire (with virtually zero electronics and carburetors) rather than a fuel-injected, electronically monitored BMW 328i.  Or going to sea in a sailboat with compass and sextant, rather than GPS, if that's your bent.  As I stated before, there certainly is an element of romance to that, but also potential consequences which need to be understood as well.

Ya pays yer money; ya takes yer chances.

Comment by Sharon Fox Nichols on December 3, 2013 at 11:04am

Ooops!  Wasn't trying to say that viruses and bacteria are intelligent--just long term survivors. :-o

Comment by Sharon Fox Nichols on December 3, 2013 at 11:03am

Loren, I am struck by how much we have lost in acquiring "civilization" and by how much we have gained, but with all the attendant "costs" to the planet and to the human psyche.  By the latter, I mean that we no longer see ourselves as among the animal world.  We have set ourselves apart as if we are the favored ones in evolution, yet our time as intelligent (?) creatures has been very short compared to viruses and bacteria! ;-)


BTW, I detect a wonderful sense of humor in your posts on A-Nexus, which make we smile, and sometimes raise an eyebrow wryly (at myself) after reading one of your very cogent posts!!!


Comment by Sharon Fox Nichols on December 3, 2013 at 10:55am

Peter, the "pass" given to religion is criminal.  I've always been bothered by blue laws, privileges given to the religious but not to those of us who are secular, and the cultural relativism which acts to promote outrageous acts and proscribed behaviors.  The exclusionary element in this "pass" on religion gives the green light to Catholic church child molestations, (and others), no taxation of vast amounts of wealth and property, and not least--perpetuation of male dominated hierarchies which were never about promoting human well-being.

Comment by Loren Miller on December 3, 2013 at 9:37am

This subject reminded me of an interchange in the movie Star Trek: Generations which sets the pluses and minuses of romantic primitivism in remarkably clear contrast:

Picard: Just imagine what it was like.  No engines, no computers ... just the wind and the sea ... and the stars to guide you.
Riker: Bad food, brutal discipline ... no women!

There's something to be said for cutting things back to basics, for being self-reliant rather than leaning on modern-day conveniences.  But there's also a price to pay, and thinking of another, more recent movie - All Is Lost - that price can be a pretty steep one.

Personally, I stick with Carly Simon's attitude - that THESE are the good old days - and they're liable to get a whole lot better if we're willing to work toward the days to come.

Comment by Peter Martin Page on December 3, 2013 at 9:16am

Throughout my life I have been bothered by how our society, and in many cases our parents, were complicit in giving absolution to cultural/religious people and groups for clear abuses. My mother had hired a hassidic old man to teach her children hebrew. This old pervert sexually abused us. My mother would not report him to the authorities.

When I was a young teenager the local YM/YWHA decided to remain open on Saturdays since most of the members were secular. The first Saturday morning I tried to enter, two hassidic men grabbed me by the arms, wrapped leather thongs around my arms and forced me to repeat some gibberish. They then forced me to leave. The police would have been aware they might abuse the rights of others since they had threatened to do so. The police were notably absent.

The political correctness of absolving religious and cultural groups of having to follow the same legal boundaries is a political manifestation of romantic primitivism/cultural relativism. In Quebec the PQ are finally questioning this behaviour by proposing a Charter of Secular Values. The traditional Liberal, Conservative and NDP parties are falling over themselves calling the PQ racist. A Liberal member has broken rank and sided with the PQ. It is no surprise the Liberal MP Fatima Houda-Pepin is a muslim who has experience with the abuses of fundamentalists. I hope people listen to her and our politicians begin to end the romantic primitivism/cultural relativism that absolves abuses in the name of political correctness.

Comment by Sharon Fox Nichols on December 3, 2013 at 2:12am

Dyslexic's Dog, you nailed it on the head in your comment "If all knowledge of good and bad is Evil, then so would knowledge of the goodness of God be Evil."

As one who seeks knowledge, how could I be persuaded that the search and the knowledge are compelled by evil?  Would any kind of a god worth worshipping knowingly put us in such a dilemma?  And if god didn't know he was doing this, how could he be all-knowing.  I grant you, the Romantic Ideal, like other movements, has created its share of excesses--atrocities, even.  When I studied philosophy (still do!), I would read Kant and think, "Yes, it is so!" (being not very learned at that point).  Then I would read another philosopher and think, "Oh, so Kant is wrong in this or that and this new philosopher is right!"  Wrong again.  On and on, with legions of philosophers and the biggest thing I learned is that there are Big Questions which are drop-dead difficult to answer suitably, even drawing from ALL the philosophers.  To me, this means that to think deeply requires a dedicated, devoted concentration on trying to learn.  Most people aren't that dedicated, devoted, or perhaps goal-oriented.  Oh, and the other thing I learned is--the more I know, the less I know!  ;-)

Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on December 2, 2013 at 1:40am

Ah Yes, the paradox of the Garden of Eden.

God banned Adam from gaining Knowledge, and punished all humanity for gaining knowledge, yet also punishes those that do not gain knowledge of itself.

We cannot have knowledge of good and bad, but the knowledge of God is goodness.

If all knowledge of good and bad is Evil, then so would knowledge of the goodness of God be Evil.

It's such an irrational paradox that it defies belief that anybody could actually consider it realistic.

I think I'd much rather have knowledge of what is rational and irrational.

Religion certainly slams down real hard on the Irrational button, continuously.

Comment by Sharon Fox Nichols on December 2, 2013 at 1:06am

It's as if humanity is best when it is childlike and "innocent",  in Eden.  Perhaps there is a biological component to this romanticism, as if there is a memory of our own "before" and a wish to return to it or to have it become the norm again.  But in the Eden story, is Mankind innocent or simply unknowledgeable? Since when should gaining knowledge be a bad thing??? Once we have knowledge, next comes loss of childhood and entrance into the "Real World" in which we have to herd animals, hunt & gather, or engage in agriculture (w-o-r-k) to get our needs met.  Is this the result of the primitive part of our mind (the oldest primal part of the brain) simply remembering the comfort of the womb?

It is rather odd, actually, that we romanticize unblemished (by human hands) Nature, as if it isn't the feral killing zone of survival it is!

As for Rousseau's question "What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?", I believe we have to answer in part, the answer is yes, at least in that we differ as individuals due to genetic variations and mutations (natural law = natural selection),therefore some traits are favored in select environments, including human-created ones.  By the latter, I mean things like athletic competitions, thinking ability, cleverness, shrewdness, problem-solving, etc.  Those personal traits or even culture-wide shared traits which give individuals, tribes, nations, ethnicities, nation-states, and sadly, historically, races, the advantages/disadvantages which promote one person, group, or state over another. 

We  don't like to think of ourselves this way, but we are still of the animal kingdom and are still bound by instincts which unbeknownst to us, give rise to some of our individual and species behaviors.  We are largely unaware of aspects within our biology which causes our behaviors:  chemical imbalances, pheromones, sexual drive due to hormones, the biology of love, etc.

Perhaps we should consider that the Romantic period in Philosophy, Literature, & Art followed on the heals of the Catholic Church excesses, with humanity treated as born evil and while a person's soul may be saved by the Church, the well-being of the personhood was completely at the mercy of church dictates.  Independent thought (knowledge!) was verboten.  Only the Church had any answers and the first one is that the human as a sexual being is evil.  Romanticism/the Enlightenment raised humanity above the dungeon and the cross. 



Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on November 24, 2013 at 5:51am

Though I see the Garden of Eden story as the original Heaven, where humans go bad, get kicked out and spend the rest of their existence, begging, pleading and worshiping the Extraordinary Narcissistic Megalomaniac to brown nose their way back into the Garden or Heaven.

It's the same story as the Buddhist priest fantasy of Tripitaka. Which we saw on television as "Magic Monkey" series where Monkey who was a God is kicked out of Heaven and has to protect the boy priest in order to get back into the Buddhist Heaven, which is the Polytheistic version of Buddhism with many Gods and Demons. Likely these tales and the Biblical story were all derived from a common ancestor.  Possibly the Biblical story was a Monotheistic take on the Buddhist Tripitaka myth which is probably older than Christianity.

The non-theistic version of Buddhism that my Buddhist friends belong to, don't have such a place like a heaven, Buddha was only a teacher of the rules of gaining enlightenment which is essentially knowledge of all things and gaining the perfect balance of good and bad, for bad must exist for there to be good, they cannot exist separately.

I almost joined their faith, but, even Buddhism has irrational concepts that turned me away.



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