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Darzin

The future of Catholicism

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Here comes an alternative suggestion: Religion, especially the monotheistic ones, created a set of common cultural practices, that greatly facilitated human cooperation across nations, languages and other barriers to human cooperation; thus we might argue that the invention of monotheistic religions - just like the invention of money - prevented more wars than it actually created. That's of course a hypothesis that cannot be tested because obviously the wars that never happened leave no historical trace. But its an interesting thought experiment, if we define religion as an instrument to create a common set of beliefs about the nature of the social order. It's linchpin used to be god, but the French revolution effectively pulled that one out and since then we have replaced god with human as the linchpin of the new religions.

The paradox is that the intolerance of monotheistic religions actually contributes to their stabilizing influence, because defining what's true and what isn't is basically how they stabilize the social order. And truth doesn't allow alternatives. So after the French revolution puts the genie, that Constantine had released, back in the bottle, the theistic religions start to crumble and the doubt in them translates into a fundamental doubt in the old social order and new religions rise that put down the belief about the human nature as the foundation of a new social order. This culminates in the 20th century with the rise of "human centered" religions (The Worker in Communism, The Arian in Nazism, The Citizen in Liberalism) that are struggling to replace the crumbling social order of theism.

And that's where the worst wars occurred, because the intolerance of these religions is just like the intolerance of the old ones: there can only be one truth as the foundation of the social order. Either all citizens are equal or there are subhumans and superhumans, both cannot go together. Either the nation is above all oder class is above all - both cannot be true and so on... This is basically a breakdown of the old religion and a fight for a new social order. Once it was settled, relative peace was possible.

For the future of the RCC as a theistic religion, this will mean dwindling numbers in all those countries that have successfully adopted alternative, human-centered religions as the foundations of their social order. The cultural practices that have not been adopted by the new social order will slowly die out or become amusing quirks of small minorities. 

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Considering how much blood all the forms of monotheistic religions have spilled -- or even non-monotheistic ones such as Hinduism and Buddhist -- against others of their own religion who aren't practicing, believing, even pronouncing in exactly as the same way as Somebody Ordains -- particularly the Christian religions internecine wars even way back when all Christians were considered brothers in Christ as in the 3 century -- this argument doesn't wash, alternate or otherwise.

 

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The argument that without religion, there would have been less bloodshed not provable either. We simply have no control group for our past.

But there is archeological evidence that Hunter/Gatherer groups were very brutal, in fact much more than our societies today. So we might as well entertain the idea - if only to amuse ourselves - that bigger, global religions actually lessened violence and evolved as an instrument for humans to organize stable societies beyond the size that our biological evolution (which we can observe in our closely related primates) would allow. 

But of course, with all the blood spilled, it is maybe unthinkable that it could have been worse. I don't think so, but that of course ist just another theory.

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It stands to reason that higher cultural uniformity across people means less violence because everyone acts according to the same rules and beliefs. We saw it a long time ago with the Pax Romana, then with the vast Mongol empire, for instance.

The trick has always been to achieve it with as few bloodshed, mass-murder and destruction as possible. Quite often, the unifying power/ belief system didn't mind smashing the previous orders and utterly ruining them. We've seen it with the expansions of Christianity, Islam, the attempts by the likes of Napoleon and Hitler, and recently with the clashes between capitalism and communism (thankfully, the most brutal conflict has been avoided).

If we consider how cultures and peoples are growingly splitting up along more or less silly lines nowadays, something made far worse by social media, the future doesn't look exactly great for the next decades.

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Alarich II said:

But there is archeological evidence that Hunter/Gatherer groups were very brutal, in fact much more than our societies today.

*Hotly debated archeological evidence. I've just read that Pinker's numbers (in The Better Angels of our Nature) were all wrong for instance (because of gross methodological mistakes too).

The problem here is that we really can't know, because we just don't have enough data points to draw wide conclusions. The debate quickly becomes ideological - because of the obvious implications.

And "brutal" is a question of perspective to begin with. There's little doubt that hunter-gatherer groups routinely practiced infanticide for instance, but not everyone will regard this as "brutal" exactly, because "modern" societies actually have comparable practices. Ditto with senicide/geronticide, though it may be described as largely symbolical in our time - the brutality is now seldom physical.

3 hours ago, Alarich II said:

So we might as well entertain the idea - if only to amuse ourselves - that bigger, global religions actually lessened violence and evolved as an instrument for humans to organize stable societies beyond the size that our biological evolution (which we can observe in our closely related primates) would allow.

The problem here is causality. Yes, "bigger," universal religions facilitated cooperation on larger scales. But it's not clear whether such large-scale cooperation didn't predate the emergence of such religions, i.e. if it wasn't politicomorphism.

It seems what emerged first was the State, city-states in Mesopotamia specifically. Commerce between different peoples required local authorities to have a monopoly of the use of force, which in turn influenced the beliefs of the peoples involved (especially thanks to syncretism). Conflicts were then limited to rivalries between city-states, with the authorities gaining greater political power thanks to this. The vicious (virtuous?) circle is easy to picture; while religion no doubt acted as a catalyst, I don't think it can be described as a root cause.

Generally speaking, I don't think we need religious beliefs to play that important a role, even in Antiquity. The paradox here being that if a belief system is entirely based on religious myths, then said myths aren't as influential as one would think, because the belief system has already become complex enough to develop a certain autonomy from them. Or, to put it differently, human decision-making being legitimised through religious beliefs does not mean that the decision-making itself comes from religion ; religion will have influence (the priesthood, oracles, omens... etc), but the choices are conceptualized within the more rational/pragmatic framework of the belief system.
Not sure, this is clear - it's not an easy point to make.

Anyway, all I'm saying is that anthropology suggests that the State was the cause, not religion. Religion likely developed as a key aspect of the State, and its relationship to politics then varied widely depending on the time and place - quite often, religion was a tool for the powerful (including for the priesthood).
Not that this answers the question of whether this should be seen as "good" or "bad" (assuming we want to label things that way). But imho it helps us think of historical events in a more logical way. For instance, the French revolution becomes the result of a long process rather than the sudden change that is generally described. If I want to have fun, I'd argue that the process (i.e. the waning of religious influence in politics) started about five centuries earlier in neighboring Britain - which helps explain why French socio-economic structures failed dismally to adapt.

Edited by Rippounet

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Posted (edited)

Nihilism is best. Nietzsche wasn't arguing about these, he simply didn't give a fuck. In our negligible existence span, let's live life with no regrets, and I'm always near regretting arguing religion though I love it 

Edit 

Love the argument I mean :D

Edited by TheLastWolf

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8 hours ago, Rippounet said:

The problem here is that we really can't know, because we just don't have enough data points to draw wide conclusions. The debate quickly becomes ideological - because of the obvious implications.

I agree, the further we go back, the fewer data points we have and the conlusions we can draw from those are more specualtive in nature. This makes it so fascinating and - as you say - prone to misinterpretations through the lens of our contemporary cultural understanding.

8 hours ago, Rippounet said:

The problem here is causality. Yes, "bigger," universal religions facilitated cooperation on larger scales. But it's not clear whether such large-scale cooperation didn't predate the emergence of such religions, i.e. if it wasn't politicomorphism.

It seems what emerged first was the State, city-states in Mesopotamia specifically. Commerce between different peoples required local authorities to have a monopoly of the use of force, which in turn influenced the beliefs of the peoples involved (especially thanks to syncretism). Conflicts were then limited to rivalries between city-states, with the authorities gaining greater political power thanks to this. The vicious (virtuous?) circle is easy to picture; while religion no doubt acted as a catalyst, I don't think it can be described as a root cause.

Three things come to mind, that almost simutaneously happen about 10.000 to 9.000 years ago in the fertile crescent: humans develop agriculture and permanent settlements, in those settlements (city states) a hierarchical social order emerges and organized religion (including a priest class) emerges with ritual buildings that require significant collective effort. And I believe that those three developments are interdependent. Prof. Harari argues in his book A Brief History of Humankind (which is a great and easy read), that there is some archeological evidence that organized religion actually shortly predates permant settlements and agriculture and that maybe the need of manpower and permanent construction of big religious sites led to those permanent settlements and the development of agriculture in the first place.

This is of course highly speculative, but he basically argues that through the cultural evolution, of which religion is a part, homo sapiens trapped itself into subsistence farming, which for the species itself is a hugely successful model but for the individual is pretty miserable because its biological evolution didn't intend for it to be a farmer or city dweller (if this is true, then in fact religion probably is the root of most, if not all, evil).

8 hours ago, Rippounet said:

Anyway, all I'm saying is that anthropology suggests that the State was the cause, not religion. Religion likely developed as a key aspect of the State, and its relationship to politics then varied widely depending on the time and place - quite often, religion was a tool for the powerful (including for the priesthood).

Well, my argument would be that religion is just the philosophy that explains and justifies the social order (i.e. the state), i.e. I wouldn't necessarily define religion as a belief about the supernatural but rather a belief about the way humans and their world is ordered, a belief about what the "natural" order actually is if you will. As such, any state can only exist if those humans that make up this particular social order, believe in it and accept its underlying premises as true. If enough people no longer believe that the King is ruler because God wills it, he may get his head chopped off.

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You dont have to go to pre-recorded history with hunter gatherers. The usual template with organized religions (particularly the Abrahamic ones) is that they were usually better than what existed before. This is well documented in the case of Islam where for instance, the role of women was far superior in the beginning compared to what the Bedouin's had. All this is laid out very nicely in Karen Armstrong's book A History of God.

The problem is when these religions become calcified and get in the hands of a few men who create a rigid hierarchical organization that upend the (relatively) good teachings created during its infancy. You can see this not only with Islam but also the numerous strains of Christianity (RCC and others).

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14 hours ago, TheLastWolf said:

Nihilism is best. Nietzsche wasn't arguing about these, he simply didn't give a fuck. In our negligible existence span, let's live life with no regrets, and I'm always near regretting arguing religion though I love it 

Edit 

Love the argument I mean :D

I've always found Stoicism to be a very appealing philosophy.  One of its points is that we should treat people well regardless of whether some bearded dude in the sky will pat us on the back after we die, because if we're all going to die anyway, why not be nice to everyone?  Cruelty damages the perpetrator in addition to the victim.  Kindness benefits the giver in addition to the receiver. 

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6 hours ago, Alarich II said:

Well, my argument would be that religion is just the philosophy that explains and justifies the social order (i.e. the state), i.e. I wouldn't necessarily define religion as a belief about the supernatural but rather a belief about the way humans and their world is ordered, a belief about what the "natural" order actually is if you will.

We agree 100% here. In fact, you put it much better than I did.

6 hours ago, Alarich II said:

Three things come to mind, that almost simutaneously happen about 10.000 to 9.000 years ago in the fertile crescent: humans develop agriculture and permanent settlements, in those settlements (city states) a hierarchical social order emerges and organized religion (including a priest class) emerges with ritual buildings that require significant collective effort. And I believe that those three developments are interdependent. Prof. Harari argues in his book A Brief History of Humankind (which is a great and easy read), that there is some archeological evidence that organized religion actually shortly predates permant settlements and agriculture and that maybe the need of manpower and permanent construction of big religious sites led to those permanent settlements and the development of agriculture in the first place.

I believe such a theory is mainly based on the ruins of Göbekli Tepe, in Turkey, isn't it?

I'm not sold. For starters, even if the interpretation of the findings is correct, it's still one data point. And when you're studying a 10,000+-year-old site, I think it's dreadfully easy to miss something and jump to conclusions.
Even the Encylopedia Britannica's article is paradoxical: Göbekli Tepe's absence of hearths or trash pits is seen as proof that it was built by hunter-gatherers, but "the work needed to construct Göbekli Tepe would have required that a large number of builders be housed and fed in one place."
So which is it? Given the size of the site, the absence of trace of permanent settlement seems more of an anomaly than something to base theories on. Obviously, there had to be some form of permanent settlement to build the site in the first place.

It seems more likely that Göbekli Tepe was in fact an early city-state more than 10,000 years ago that collapsed and was then used as a ritual site by the descendants of the peoples of the city-state -gone back to hunting-gathering- for centuries or even millenia. Not only is the fragility of early city-states well documented in scholarly literature, but we have examples of such "residual worsip" in history right up to this day.

Not that sckepticism about Göbekli Tepe debunks Harari's overall argument about a "cognitive revolution." I just don't buy that organized religion was the key factor. Unless, as you say, we see "organized religion" as defining a "natural order" in which the supernatural is not necessarily the dominant element.

 

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Posted (edited)

Interesting discussion, as always!

10 hours ago, Alarich II said:

Well, my argument would be that religion is just the philosophy that explains and justifies the social order (i.e. the state), i.e. I wouldn't necessarily define religion as a belief about the supernatural but rather a belief about the way humans and their world is ordered, a belief about what the "natural" order actually is if you will. As such, any state can only exist if those humans that make up this particular social order, believe in it and accept its underlying premises as true. If enough people no longer believe that the King is ruler because God wills it, he may get his head chopped off.

This would be a sort of Durkheimian definition of religion, no? It would also expand it to embrace basically any ideology, whether liberalism, communism, or nationalism. Also, by that definition, it would seem that the human capacity to organise themselves in general is the root of violence (?).

3 hours ago, Rippounet said:

I believe such a theory is mainly based on the ruins of Göbekli Tepe, in Turkey, isn't it?

The idea is older than the finds at Göbekli, I think. If I'm not much mistaken (although I haven't been able to confirm it by a quick search), it was originally based on the central role of the temples in organising life (both economy and politics) in early Mesopotamian and Egyptian cities. More recent finds indicate that forager societies often established semi-sedentary settlements (e.g. fishing settlements) before they became farmers, and of course there existed sedentary farming settlements before the temple cities. On the other hand, there are also indications that humans would continue to return to specific places for 'cultic purposes', perhaps easing us into permanent settlements. The theory then received more support from Göbekli Tepe. Here, their waste suggests they were primarily foragers, but I think the assumption is that they were semi-sedentary groups of the type previously mentioned living in villages in the surrounding area. Shared cult may well have been a central factor in what brought these disparate groups together at the specific site, perhaps indicating the processes that (combined with irrigation needs) facilitated the foundation of the Sumerian city states and the role of the temples there.

19 hours ago, TheLastWolf said:

Nihilism is best. Nietzsche wasn't arguing about these, he simply didn't give a fuck. In our negligible existence span, let's live life with no regrets, and I'm always near regretting arguing religion though I love it 

Edit 

Love the argument I mean :D

Nietzsche wasn't a nihilist, though, and was in fact very fond of arguing about (or, more commonly, polemicising against) religion in his quest for the values of a godless society.

6 hours ago, IheartIheartTesla said:

You dont have to go to pre-recorded history with hunter gatherers. The usual template with organized religions (particularly the Abrahamic ones) is that they were usually better than what existed before. This is well documented in the case of Islam where for instance, the role of women was far superior in the beginning compared to what the Bedouin's had. All this is laid out very nicely in Karen Armstrong's book A History of God.

The problem is when these religions become calcified and get in the hands of a few men who create a rigid hierarchical organization that upend the (relatively) good teachings created during its infancy. You can see this not only with Islam but also the numerous strains of Christianity (RCC and others).

As far as I can tell, this claim is quite speculative. At any rate, I don't think there are grounds to say that the situation post-Islam was far superior to that which prevailed earlier, as we hardly know anything about women's role in pre-Islamic Arabian society with certainty (restricting ourselves to 'pagan' bedouins of the Arabian peninsula - other important groups had earlier adopted Christianity, Judaism, and perhaps, for a brief time, Manichaeism).

Edited by FalagarV2

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8 hours ago, argonak said:

I've always found Stoicism to be a very appealing philosophy.  One of its points is that we should treat people well regardless of whether some bearded dude in the sky will pat us on the back after we die, because if we're all going to die anyway, why not be nice to everyone?  Cruelty damages the perpetrator in addition to the victim.  Kindness benefits the giver in addition to the receiver. 

Stoicism, in many philosophical/ethical aspects, was basically a proto-Christianity. It explains why the latter could spread so easily across the Empire.

 

14 hours ago, Alarich II said:

I agree, the further we go back, the fewer data points we have and the conlusions we can draw from those are more specualtive in nature. This makes it so fascinating and - as you say - prone to misinterpretations through the lens of our contemporary cultural understanding.

Indeed. That hunter-gatherer societies were specially violent has become a trope nowadays, thanks to Pinker and a few others, but a few decades ago, the common wisdom was the exact opposite: no true warfare was possible with hunter-gatherers, so things were more peaceful at the time. And you have people like Jared Diamond who are more or less right in the middle, acknowledging violence between clans but assuming there was less internal violence (if I remember correctly).

 

9 hours ago, IheartIheartTesla said:

The problem is when these religions become calcified and get in the hands of a few men who create a rigid hierarchical organization that upend the (relatively) good teachings created during its infancy.

You mean, like with communism?

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9 minutes ago, Clueless Northman said:

You mean, like with communism?

The specific "ism" matters less than the authoritarian hierarchy and power structure. That's the problem be it religion, politics, etc.

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9 hours ago, FalagarV2 said:

This would be a sort of Durkheimian definition of religion, no? It would also expand it to embrace basically any ideology, whether liberalism, communism, or nationalism. Also, by that definition, it would seem that the human capacity to organise themselves in general is the root of violence (?).

Yes, although the capacity to organise themselves beyond small clans is not a biological function, but a learned, cultural function. And the idea is that religion in this sense is part of the cultural evolution that allowed for bigger groups of humans to organize themselves. Which may have actually lessened violent encounters between many small groups.

 

6 hours ago, Clueless Northman said:

Indeed. That hunter-gatherer societies were specially violent has become a trope nowadays, thanks to Pinker and a few others, but a few decades ago, the common wisdom was the exact opposite: no true warfare was possible with hunter-gatherers, so things were more peaceful at the time. And you have people like Jared Diamond who are more or less right in the middle, acknowledging violence between clans but assuming there was less internal violence (if I remember correctly).

Well, I wouldn't call it a trope; it's a theory, but of course it's not the only one with merit and the further we go back, the less evidence we find for almost any theory. But when the timeline reaches the brink of the Neolithic revolution there are pretty substantial finds like the Talheim and Schletz that indicate that not just occasional violent clashes but outright genocide between small groups did happen.

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12 minutes ago, Alarich II said:

Well, I wouldn't call it a trope; it's a theory, but of course it's not the only one with merit and the further we go back, the less evidence we find for almost any theory. But when the timeline reaches the brink of the Neolithic revolution there are pretty substantial finds like the Talheim and Schletz that indicate that not just occasional violent clashes but outright genocide between small groups did happen.

I'd say it's a bit more than a theory though, because if you focus too much on the data points we have that show violent behavior, you're going to get biased conclusions.

One can read the beginning of Pinker's answer to his critics on Science's website: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/338/6105/327.2
In his monumental Behave, Robert Sapolsky quips: "To be facetious, this would be like not including Quakers in one's analysis of violence because no one studying them had published something along the lines of "Estimated per-capita rates of death in Quaker communites due to gangland-style executions in nightclubs: zero; due to targeted drone missile strikes: zero, due to dirty bombs made with stolen plutonium: zero... "

The -perhaps ironic question- being: "does genocide mean humans are/were violent?"
It reminds me of the joke about black sheep:

Quote

An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician were on a train heading north, and had just crossed the border into Scotland.

  • The engineer looked out of the window and said "Look! Scottish sheep are black!"
  • The physicist said, "No, no. Some Scottish sheep are black."
  • The mathematician looked irritated. "There is at least one field, containing at least one sheep, of which at least one side is black."

 

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1 hour ago, Rippounet said:

I'd say it's a bit more than a theory though, because if you focus too much on the data points we have that show violent behavior, you're going to get biased conclusions.

Absolutely, there is another problem too, when you find mass burial sites: it's not very likely that so many humans die of natural causes at the same time and place that you'll have to dump them all in a big pit to get rid of the bodies (except perhaps during the plague). So when you find one of these places, you're very likely to find a lot of gruesome evidence.

That being said, Talheim is not the only site where the nature of the remains indicate violent death, it's more like besides the occasional Cain killing Abel, these sites indicate a more systematic and thorough approach to eliminating the competition. And the fact that over 7.000 years later we found something like that at all is telling. I tend to believe that it is unlikely that we would have found places like Schletz or Talheim with many human remains, if these kind of violent encounters were something very rare and extraordinary.

But of course this could very well be one of those biased conclusions: Find one genocide and it is therefore all over the place, find none and it never happened. 

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Posted (edited)

Thank-you, guys, for the thoughtful discussion about human development and the historic existence of violence.

I think this thread got started because of all the publicity about unmarked graves at residential schools run by the churches in Canada. For decades indigenous leaders have been saying there were unmarked graves across the country, so it has always been known but nobody has done anything about it until recently. Frankly I think 20 years ago people were sad about the stories but just shrugged them off with “somebody should do something about it”, but as indigenous leaders have worked hard to bring stories of injustice to the forefront more and more people are getting angry about nothing getting done. I have known for decades about unmarked graves in probably most of the cemeteries in Canada, because that’s what happens to the poor and the homeless and people without relatives (as opposed to the downright indifference and callousness shown to indigenous children).
 

Likely because of these stories all of a sudden I’m seeing stories pop up on my Facebook page about unmarked graves of black people in the US, and I saw a news piece about possibly thousands of graves in Florida just being paved over in Florida. I meant to link that story but when I searched “black graves paved over” so many stories showed up from across the US I was just stunned. From Atlanta to New Hampshire, from Florida to Boston, just on the first page, it seems that paving over black cemeteries is done without a second thought. Do you people not have laws about grave sites needing to be disinterred and moved to another cemetery before you can build a road or pave a parking lot? 
 

This is what I mean about people just being shitty human beings. I realize this strays from the topic of the Catholic Church but this thread seemed the appropriate place to talk about it (graves of people not white).

eta: the story is in the WaPo. It seems to be a tale of the Tampa city council seizing a black cemetery for some kind of unfair tax levy, holding onto the land for decades, and then giving the property to the city's Italian community for, what else, a cemetery, without mentioning there were already graves there. When building started and coffins got uncovered they were apparently quickly covered up and paved over. The story mentions other stories of 'lost' black cemeteries in Florida.

Edited by L'oiseau français

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23 hours ago, FalagarV2 said:

As far as I can tell, this claim is quite speculative. At any rate, I don't think there are grounds to say that the situation post-Islam was far superior to that which prevailed earlier, as we hardly know anything about women's role in pre-Islamic Arabian society with certainty (restricting ourselves to 'pagan' bedouins of the Arabian peninsula - other important groups had earlier adopted Christianity, Judaism, and perhaps, for a brief time, Manichaeism).

Well, I dont have Armstrong's book at hand (or seem to have lost it), so I cant tell you what sources she used for her claim. But on the flip side, I would find it difficult to believe we dont know anything about the role of women in pagan Bedouin societies. Even if they didnt have oral or written traditions, unlike remote tribes etc. they did interact with numerous cultures and societies and surely second hand accounts exist. .

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10 hours ago, Alarich II said:

Yes, although the capacity to organise themselves beyond small clans is not a biological function, but a learned, cultural function. And the idea is that religion in this sense is part of the cultural evolution that allowed for bigger groups of humans to organize themselves. Which may have actually lessened violent encounters between many small groups.

Yeah, I'd agree with that, to some extent. Although I don't think it's as much about less violence (likely, to my mind, but hard to quantify) as it is about harnessing and controlling violence (i.e. the thesis of the neo-institutionalists North, Weingast and Wallis in Violence and Social Order).

3 minutes ago, IheartIheartTesla said:

Well, I dont have Armstrong's book at hand (or seem to have lost it), so I cant tell you what sources she used for her claim. But on the flip side, I would find it difficult to believe we dont know anything about the role of women in pagan Bedouin societies. Even if they didnt have oral or written traditions, unlike remote tribes etc. they did interact with numerous cultures and societies and surely second hand accounts exist. .

I think the primary pieces of evidence are the Qu'ran and/or later Muslim traditions themselves. The argument is (understandably) often made by Muslim feminists, but apart from the inherently biased Muslim accounts we don't really have much evidence. For contemporary accounts of pre-Islamic Arabs, we're mostly dependent on incidental remarks by Roman/Byzantine authors such as Ammianus Marcellinus and Zosimus. They treat social relations very cursory, although they also depict female Arab rulers such as Zenobia and Mavia.

A relatively nuanced take is found in Leila Ahmed's Women and Gender in Islam; she mentions e.g. the Muslim ban on female infanticide on the plus side, but a decline in political activity and the likely disappearance of matrilineal marriage customs as negatives.

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