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Fundies and moral development


Alana Rickman

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I didn't want to hijack Latraviata's thread about Zsu's contemplations, so I started this one. After the post where Zsu told Latraviata she didn't have any reason to grieve for her son (which was one of the most awful things I've ever read on the Internet), one of Zsu's commenters added this gem to the conversation:

I don't understand why atheists are concerned about doing right and wrong? If there is no god, then what would be the point?

I'm intrigued by this. See, to silly old atheist me, the point of "doing right and [not doing] wrong" is to be a positive influence in the world and avoid hurting other people. The whole idea that comment represents--"well, I'll do what I know is right, and avoid doing what I know is wrong, because that's how I gain a reward/avoid a punishment"--is such a childlike approach to morality and personal responsibility for your actions. I mean, my seven-year-old is more morally advanced than that, and has been for some time now, so I was flabbergasted that someone who is presumably an adult thinks that way.

Is this how most fundamentalists' brains actually work? I'm starting to think that a lot of people who fall into fundamentalism--not all, certainly, but a good number--are attracted to that kind of thinking because they're stuck in this same kind of arrested moral development. That way, they don't have to make any hard moral decisions for themselves--just do what the Bible/the pastor/Daddy/husband says and you'll be a-okay. Am I totally off base here?

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I didn't want to hijack Latraviata's thread about Zsu's contemplations, so I started this one. After the post where Zsu told Latraviata she didn't have any reason to grieve for her son (which was one of the most awful things I've ever read on the Internet), one of Zsu's commenters added this gem to the conversation:

I'm intrigued by this. See, to silly old atheist me, the point of "doing right and [not doing] wrong" is to be a positive influence in the world and avoid hurting other people. The whole idea that comment represents--"well, I'll do what I know is right, and avoid doing what I know is wrong, because that's how I gain a reward/avoid a punishment"--is such a childlike approach to morality and personal responsibility for your actions. I mean, my seven-year-old is more morally advanced than that, and has been for some time now, so I was flabbergasted that someone who is presumably an adult thinks that way.

Is this how most fundamentalists' brains actually work? I'm starting to think that a lot of people who fall into fundamentalism--not all, certainly, but a good number--are attracted to that kind of thinking because they're stuck in this same kind of arrested moral development. That way, they don't have to make any hard moral decisions for themselves--just do what the Bible/the pastor/Daddy/husband says and you'll be a-okay. Am I totally off base here?

I definitely think that you are on target. I believe that a majority of the people who are attracted to fundamentalism, and to other sorts of extremes as well, see that life can be made black and white, which by the very nature of life can never be so, hence the reward/punishment mentality. When there is no middle ground, life is suddenly less complicated and you aren't forced to consider and reconsider your positons on various things. With fundamentalism, which is wrapped up in legalism, you only have to follow x rules and you are "right with God". I believe that for most people fundamentalism provides a security that they are desperately seeking. Suddenly, all of your decisions are made for you or are clear, which provides a sense of security because you are no longer burdened with thinking through or making the decision yourself. All of that culminates in a lack of critical thinking skills that results in a lower level of reasoning on both moral and other grounds.

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I long ago concluded that, pointless as I think religion is, if it's the only thing stopping all these people from going apeshit and committing mayhem, then maybe they should keep it.

As an atheist I see this world as the only world and would like things to be as pleasant as possible for as many people as possible. It's not like I have to constantly tell myself not to rape, pillage and plunder. Do fundies?

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What gets me is that these people are pretty much saying that without their god they would be out raping, killing, and stealing. O.o

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Is this how most fundamentalists' brains actually work? I'm starting to think that a lot of people who fall into fundamentalism--not all, certainly, but a good number--are attracted to that kind of thinking because they're stuck in this same kind of arrested moral development. That way, they don't have to make any hard moral decisions for themselves--just do what the Bible/the pastor/Daddy/husband says and you'll be a-okay. Am I totally off base here?

Yes, it is how their minds work. It's why so many of them scare the hell out of me. Their code of ethics is based on their expectations of reward/punishment. Not on respect for their fellow humans.

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I was thinking about this exact thing this morning during my run. Here is my take on it-

They use their religon as a crutch, it takes the responsiblity away from them of having to make a decision. Everything is spelled out in the Bible and if you follow it you will have a great and wonderful life. I think that they stop maturing both emotionally and intellecturally at the point that they start believing, so for the rest of their life they are trapped due to their what I call "Social Developmental Delay". Since they are at a lower level of maturtiy they use that as a baseline and the kids are also delayed, turns into a cycle until someone escapes and then they need professional help to deal with the outside world. I see this every day at work with the members that have escaped or been thrown out of the FLDS. They might be early 20's however they have the life skills of a 12 year old. Very sad. J'Slaves have the same issue and Smugglar is the perfect example, he is a man child, with the emotionally and social IQ of a 16 year old.

Just my 2 cents.

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I completely agree with everything above, and I think their viewpoint makes the world a worse place. Not only do they only act morally to please their God, but they care less about suffering on Earth because they think the afterlife will make everything "right." For example, pregnant as the result of rape? Sure, you might suffer on Earth, but if you have the baby you'll go to heaven and if you abort it you'll go to hell. So much better to suffer on Earth than go to hell, right? I think this attitude also leads to being anti-environmentalist and a bunch of other terrible things.

Meanwhile, those of us who are sane act morally on Earth with no expectations of an afterlife.

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Seriously, it seems to me like a lot of Fundies, particularly the ones mentioned in the OP are operating at a very low stage of moral development when it comes to doing right and not doing wrong.

I mean really low... As in stage one on the Kohlberg scale here. You know "Heinz shouldn't steal the medicine because he might get caught and go to jail." Only for the Fundies it's "Heinz shouldn't steal the medicine because God will know and he'll get in trouble."

Then there is the other aspect of moral development that I unfortunately can't name right now just because unlike my Adolescent Development text, my Childhood Development text is not on the floor next to my chair.

However I can tell you this... Two types of action/punishment understanding:

The most basic, and the one younger children are more prone too: If no one is watching me do something wrong I won't get in trouble because they can only punish me here and now.

The most advanced, and the one older children and adults should be prone too: It is wrong, even if no one sees me do it I could still get caught I need to decide if it's worth the possible future punishment.

So, yeah I do think they are operating at stunted level of moral development. I think that for those raised in the movement, the moral development was, either intentionally or unintentionally, stunted by the parents. We learn higher forms of reasoning by interacting with, and discussing life issues with, people who have a higher level of reasoning than us. If your parents are stunted, or they refuse to allow you to take part in the discussion, and they don't let you interact with anyone outside of your family you have no chance to learn from others.

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This kind of reward/punishment thinking has always frightened me. I agree that if religion is the only thing keeping some people from becoming murderous monsters then religion is a very good thing! It seems like these kinds of people can't comprehend why you would want to do good for the sake of doing good. I don't donate to the animal shelter because I'm afraid big daddy god is watching, I do it because its the decent thing to do.

Someone I know was shocked to learn I am an atheist because I'm "such a nice person." They also told me that I'm an exception because most atheists are horrible, evil people who hate everyone and everything. Quotes like this make me wonder if they aren't secretly the ones who hate everything!

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This kind of reward/punishment thinking has always frightened me. I agree that if religion is the only thing keeping some people from becoming murderous monsters then religion is a very good thing! It seems like these kinds of people can't comprehend why you would want to do good for the sake of doing good. I don't donate to the animal shelter because I'm afraid big daddy god is watching, I do it because its the decent thing to do.

Someone I know was shocked to learn I am an atheist because I'm "such a nice person." They also told me that I'm an exception because most atheists are horrible, evil people who hate everyone and everything. Quotes like this make me wonder if they aren't secretly the ones who hate everything!

Yeah, I mean people do awesome and wonderful things all the time just because they know that being a good person makes the world a little nicer for us all, not because they are afraid of what will happen to them if they don't.

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I've been thinking about starting a thread about this subject for a while. I was curious to know if people who do believe in a higher power do so only to keep themselves from doing bad things. Or if they only do nice things to get themselves into heaven. I guess I'm what you call agnostic. I'm not sure if there is a god. But when I do something nice, I do it because it's the right thing to do. I choose not to do horrible things because they are wrong. I just can't imagine living my life trying to earn a better "life" after I'm dead.

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I didn't want to hijack Latraviata's thread about Zsu's contemplations, so I started this one. After the post where Zsu told Latraviata she didn't have any reason to grieve for her son (which was one of the most awful things I've ever read on the Internet), one of Zsu's commenters added this gem to the conversation:

I'm intrigued by this. See, to silly old atheist me, the point of "doing right and [not doing] wrong" is to be a positive influence in the world and avoid hurting other people. The whole idea that comment represents--"well, I'll do what I know is right, and avoid doing what I know is wrong, because that's how I gain a reward/avoid a punishment"--is such a childlike approach to morality and personal responsibility for your actions. I mean, my seven-year-old is more morally advanced than that, and has been for some time now, so I was flabbergasted that someone who is presumably an adult thinks that way.

Is this how most fundamentalists' brains actually work? I'm starting to think that a lot of people who fall into fundamentalism--not all, certainly, but a good number--are attracted to that kind of thinking because they're stuck in this same kind of arrested moral development. That way, they don't have to make any hard moral decisions for themselves--just do what the Bible/the pastor/Daddy/husband says and you'll be a-okay. Am I totally off base here?

No, you are not and I couldn't agree more with your point of view. Fundies are de facto very infantile.

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I long ago concluded that, pointless as I think religion is, if it's the only thing stopping all these people from going apeshit and committing mayhem, then maybe they should keep it.

As an atheist I see this world as the only world and would like things to be as pleasant as possible for as many people as possible. It's not like I have to constantly tell myself not to rape, pillage and plunder. Do fundies?

After the death of my youngest son 2 years ago, my oldest son and I, as atheists are very much, almost painfully aware of the fact, that we have only one life and we try to make the most of it.

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latraviata,

I am so sorry for your loss. :( I started reading your other thread but could not go on after reading Zsu's response to you in full. I hate that bitch with the fire of a thousand suns for that evil reply she gave you, which is not exactly Christian of me, but it is where I am at right now.

As to fundies in general and their arrested moral development,-it's choices that scare them. The sad conclusion is that these people WANT to be told what to do and when/how to do it. They do not want to reason their way through life's dilemmas, and then try and apply their life lessons with compassion to new situations. They want to open up a damn manual, read a few pages, and have the decisions made for them. Sure they tell themselves they have an infallible book, but the crux of it is they want no responsibility for what they do in life.

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latraviata,

I am so sorry for your loss. :( I started reading your other thread but could not go on after reading Zsu's response to you in full. I hate that bitch with the fire of a thousand suns for that evil reply she gave you, which is not exactly Christian of me, but it is where I am at right now.

As to fundies in general and their arrested moral development,-it's choices that scare them. The sad conclusion is that these people WANT to be told what to do and when/how to do it. They do not want to reason their way through life's dilemmas, and then try and apply their life lessons with compassion to new situations. They want to open up a damn manual, read a few pages, and have the decisions made for them. Sure they tell themselves they have an infallible book, but the crux of it is they want no responsibility for what they do in life.

Exactly that, that is why I call them infantile.

Somehow when I read Zsu's comment , I thought, how stupid can you be. I didn't feel offended at all. I told some people about this comment as an ancdote, just to prove how ignorant and heartless they actually are.

In the same thread one of her vassals wrote, 'your son is dead, that should teach you something' and again I am not even shocked or surprised, in fact they are vitims of their (self imposed) senseless and docile following the instructions of a book. They constantly live in fear, because the prohibitions and commandments are humanly impossible to live up to. It literally controls every aspect of their lives, sexually, emotionally so they are in constant fear to make a mistake and lose their place in heaven.

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This kind of reward/punishment thinking has always frightened me. I agree that if religion is the only thing keeping some people from becoming murderous monsters then religion is a very good thing! It seems like these kinds of people can't comprehend why you would want to do good for the sake of doing good. I don't donate to the animal shelter because I'm afraid big daddy god is watching, I do it because its the decent thing to do.

Someone I know was shocked to learn I am an atheist because I'm "such a nice person." They also told me that I'm an exception because most atheists are horrible, evil people who hate everyone and everything. Quotes like this make me wonder if they aren't secretly the ones who hate everything!

Yes, I know what you are talking about. Although, my comments on this forum are not always very subtle, in reality (according to some of my religious (not fundie) family, friends, colleagues and neighbours) I am a very friendly and kind person, despite of my atheism.

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I actually don't believe that fundies only do things because of reward/punishment. They may think that they and others do, but they don't. Normal people (meaning those without sociopathy) develop empathy long before they are able to express why they feel it. Fundies do mostly the right things because their empathy and social cues tell them to, but they don't understand what's going on so they just use religion to explain it even though it's not true. I doubt there are many fundies who would be truly willing to murder someone if they got a get-out-of-Hell-free card. There may be a few who would be willing to do it, but in those cases religion isn't stopping them because it's easy enough for them to change the rules when their alleged rule-maker is so distant and abstract.

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I actually don't believe that fundies only do things because of reward/punishment. They may think that they and others do, but they don't. Normal people (meaning those without sociopathy) develop empathy long before they are able to express why they feel it. Fundies do mostly the right things because their empathy and social cues tell them to, but they don't understand what's going on so they just use religion to explain it even though it's not true. I doubt there are many fundies who would be truly willing to murder someone if they got a get-out-of-Hell-free card. There may be a few who would be willing to do it, but in those cases religion isn't stopping them because it's easy enough for them to change the rules when their alleged rule-maker is so distant and abstract.

True, much research has been done and still going on about evolutionary morality.

Long before chistianity even existed, people always developped some sort of ethic code and morality to keep the tribes or other communities together.

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I've been thinking about starting a thread about this subject for a while. I was curious to know if people who do believe in a higher power do so only to keep themselves from doing bad things. Or if they only do nice things to get themselves into heaven. I guess I'm what you call agnostic. I'm not sure if there is a god. But when I do something nice, I do it because it's the right thing to do. I choose not to do horrible things because they are wrong. I just can't imagine living my life trying to earn a better "life" after I'm dead.

Definitely not all of us! I believe in a higher power (though not at all in a fundie way) and I would not describe myself that way at all. In fact, if anything I'd say it's easier! for a Christian to do wrong and feel okay about it, because you can ask forgiveness from God. Which is not to say that all Christians use that as a crutch to behave as if they have carte blanche to do whatever they want, (and while I am not perfect I certainly try to do the right thing, especially if my choice impacts another person!) but I've seen it happen. I even kind of suspect this is why PP gets away (in his own mind) with all that anti-government stuff. There is Scripture that says to follow the worldly government as well as God's law, and he must know that.

I also think the people with this mindset get confused between stuff God says are wrong and stuff people know is wrong. After all, if the Bible says no sex before marriage, but that is so fun and feels so good, and you can't really understand WHY it's a rule, then that's why some of (or in their mind, all of) those atheists do it. So since God says no killing or harming others, then God saying it is the only reason not to do it, so atheists can just murder people. (Obviously this is false, I'm just saying, there is confusion because some Biblical rules don't make sense from a human perspective.)

I think my post comes across as Christian vs. Atheist without bringing other religions into it, but I was just going off Zsu's post.

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I've pretty much come to the same conclusions over the years. It seemms to be so much easier to behave when you believe some great, all-powerful entity is watching you and keeping you accountable.

I try to be a good person because I want to be and because I want to help society. I don't need a bible to lay down the law.

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Vintagejen. Please, please understand that we are talking about fundies here, not Christians, or even all theists, in general. I can't speak for every atheist here, but please don't think I'm referring to all Christians in this light. I'm referring to a specific subset of theism here.

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Vintagejen. Please, please understand that we are talking about fundies here, not Christians, or even all theists, in general. I can't speak for every atheist here, but please don't think I'm referring to all Christians in this light. I'm referring to a specific subset of theism here.

I was quoting jesssnerch who said "those who believe in a higher power", which to me is a lot broader than fundies!

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I believe that a lot of people turn to fundamentalism not because of a lack of moral maturity, but because they the black/white to rationalize emotional trauma.

Such as, "I was raped/got pregnant out of wedlock/my parents abused me/ and it happened because me/the perp wasn't acting according to God's will."

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I believe that a lot of people turn to fundamentalism not because of a lack of moral maturity, but because they the black/white to rationalize emotional trauma.

Such as, "I was raped/got pregnant out of wedlock/my parents abused me/ and it happened because me/the perp wasn't acting according to God's will."

Add "And if I act in accordance to these rules, nothing bad can ever (again) happen to me." but yeah, this.

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What gets me is that these people are pretty much saying that without their god they would be out raping, killing, and stealing. O.o

As Christians like to point out, they are forgiven for anything they do. So cannot the same argument be used against them? ZZ is a believer in grace-based salvation, no?

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