On Sunday, July 22nd, our topic was "Compassion and Moral Progress." Joann provides the following summary.

Steve Grice put together 2 short videos, the first a presentation by Robert Wright who discussed evolutionary biology and moral progress. His thesis was that compassion and the golden rule 'do unto others...' has it's roots in biology and is part of our genetic makeup. Animals exhibit those traits but only within kin or familiar groups.

In humans this inborn trait is exhibited by reciprocal altruism which is usually limited to our friends, family and, to a degree, our larger society. But there are exceptions to the golden rule. Those we define as unworthy of care or compassion do not get it.

Cooperation leads to interdependence and enlarges our capacity/ability to be compassionate and can expand our moral imagination but we deploy it selectively and it is often very difficult for us to do.

Discussion Points:

One way to expand our compassion/moral imagination is to involve children in activities with others from different backgrounds, beliefs. Another would be TV programs about people and life around the world to increase understanding.

In evolution there are mutations which can produce 'cheaters' who would not follow a moral ethic.

There may be biological reasons to expand compassion but we often make snap decisions with little thought and which we may never re-examine.

There are examples in animals which show cooperation, for example elephants, dolphins.

The second video by Richard Dawkins on the root of evil led us back to the final point made by Wright – it is often very difficult for us to use 'our moral imagination'.

Dawkins opened with the Old Testament and the vengeful god who shows no compassion and urges the slaying of those who are tempted by another belief system. The New Testament does have expressions of compassion and morals but they are limited to those share the same belief system.

Discussion Points:

The morality of Christianity is questioned as torture is accepted.

There is talk of love in the bible but you must trust and praise god to earn that love. Monotheism is possibly less compassionate than pantheism because it has a narrower view – you must believe only in Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism and only in a specific sect. All others are suspect. Compassion is limited to whichever group one belongs to. This sets an up us/them dichotomy which can make it difficult for us to employ moral/compassionate decisions or actions.  


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