I don't really know if this is the right place to post this comment/question, because it's not really news, but it's related to something Joe brought up in episode 37, so fuck it. If it's the wrong spot, point me in the right direction.

So:

I wanted to respond to Joe's point about wife-beating rapist Muslims. First, let me preface this by acknowledging none of that behavior is ever okay. But where I get confused is how much of this is religious-based and how much of it is culturally-based selectively backed up by religion.

In other words, if we went back in time well before Islam or Christianity or Judaism made its way from the Eastern Mediterranean over to Northern India, would we find tribal customs that declared there could be no rape in a marriage? And in those places, was scripture conveniently crafted and accepted to accommodate such customs? If that's the case, do such rape accommodations exist to the same extent in places that have adopted Islam but aren't otherwise ethnically linked, like Indonesia?

There must be some cultural carry-over as the religion spreads, but if a religion's traditions are more rooted in tribal customs with a scent of sacrament to make it seem official, then you'd expect the same to happen in other regions. So Indonesian Islam and Pakistani Islam would share certain similarities, but the way they choose to practice their religion would be more rooted in tribal customs than in scripture, and that scripture would then selectively read/interpreted in order to accommodate for those prior-existing customs.

That's always been one of my big questions -- how much religion accommodates for prior tribal custom by putting a holy stamp on them, which helps to guarantee such customs will then serve as a vector for the religious meme. But why? Maybe because as tribes transitioned from hunter-gatherers to agricultural city-states, that meant populations become static, and that meant rules had to be established to maintain civilization within a particular ethno-cultural identity (like Hammurabi's code). Religion seems to be a handy short-circuit to help establish and maintain such rules.

So it may be more accurate to argue that religion is an accomplice in some prior-existing abhorrent behavior -- it aids and abets, rather than creates the conditions for such behavior. The religion is then accepted by a power structure because it becomes short-hand for establishing and maintaining an ethno-cultural identity -- sort of like mutually-beneficial parasites.

Perhaps one way to test this would be to identify religious inconsistencies and then look at which cultures adhere to which inconsistency, and then see if their particular choice reflects deeper tribal behavior and customs. So for instance, were adulterers stoned to death in Iran before Islam, and if so, why? Likewise, are adulterers stoned to death to the same degree in Malaysia, and were they before Islam arrived?

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This is a really interesting thought-track to take. I don't really have much to add at the moment, but I would also ask why supernaturalism tends to get caught up in these rules in most societies, but not necessarily in others - Confucianism, for example, is fairly free of supernatural justifications afaik.

Maybe it's that the supernatural claims are harder to debunk? So, when someone says, "Don't do 'x', it'll upset the Mongols," it's easier to reality-check than "Don't do 'x', it'll make Vishnu upset."

To combine my "contemplations" with yours, it would suggest that religion essentially hijacks tribal beliefs and cultural customs, then the non-supernatural ones tend to be weeded out over the years (unless there's some strong social force keeping them in place), leaving a largely supernaturalistic shell of the former belief system. Would that make sense?
I think perhaps Confucianism didn't need the additional baggage of supernatural justification because it was layered onto an existing system which already had that reinforcement. Ancient China and Japan got by with a system of emperor-worship. When the emperor accepted Confucianism, that was all of the reinforcement it needed.

Your statement about the unfalsifiable nature of religion making it stronger in pre-scientific times sounds like a good hypothesis to me, too.
In other words, if we went back in time well before Islam or Christianity or Judaism made its way from the Eastern Mediterranean over to Northern India, would we find tribal customs that declared there could be no rape in a marriage?
Certainly, the tribal customs would similarly reflect that sort of disregard. Up until recent times, women had almost no rights of any kind. Rape outside of a marriage was either an offense towards the female's father, if she was a virgin, or an offense towards the female's owner ... I'm sorry, husband ... if she was married. The woman's feelings on the subject were pretty much discounted. If the person who would be offended was the one committing the act, then how could there be any societal objection?

It's a symptom of the early agricultural society. People began collecting power and possessions, which hadn't been possible previously. Women and the children they bring are one form of power to collect.

And in those places, was scripture conveniently crafted and accepted to accommodate such customs?
Yes and no. There are elements from the 'culture' and elements that the ruling classes have decided are necessary to impose on the commoners, to slap them into line. There's always a bit of confusion over what should be considered custom, though, since much of that is just edicts handed down by previous rulers.

There must be some cultural carry-over as the religion spreads, but if a religion's traditions are more rooted in tribal customs with a scent of sacrament to make it seem official, then you'd expect the same to happen in other regions. So Indonesian Islam and Pakistani Islam would share certain similarities, but the way they choose to practice their religion would be more rooted in tribal customs than in scripture, and that scripture would then selectively read/interpreted in order to accommodate for those prior-existing customs.
Religions start out accommodating the culture of the area they're migrating into, but once they take hold, they try to override the cultural differences. There's just a question of how successful any given religion is in its homogenization attempts. I have a friend who has an Indonesian Muslim for a roommate. In any place where the religion and culture would clash, Islam wins. Admittedly she's just one person and isn't necessarily representative of her whole freaking country.
Introduced religions would have little chance to take hold in a culture whose traditions clashed with the doctrine. The Catholic Church has adapted to local custom and patched it into doctrine with relative ease over the centuries. Easter (from Isis - Ishtar - Eshtra ) fertility deities, super-imposed over Pagan Spring fertility rites - like Beltane. Christmas was superimposed over the birthday of Mithra and the Saturnalia. Local holy figures were raised into the Pantheon of the godly - Our lady of Guadalupe.
Protestants aren't that creative they just make up a new denomination to fit the circumstance.
Local holy figures were raised into the Pantheon of the godly - Our lady of Guadalupe.

Actually, I was confused about this one, myself, as little as a month or two ago. Our Lady of Guadalupe is Mary. The Guadalupe part is a manifestation of her, seen by one of the locals and crafted into a handful of artifacts of 'miraculous' origin.

The Atheist Experience did an episode about this on September 10th, 2006: Atheist Experience #465: The Back Side of Guadalupe.

This is why lots of Latinos are prone to Mary-worship, which is one of the things Protestants bash Catholicism for.
Yes, it's an odd kind of chicken/egg dilemma.

I can't recall where I heard this first but a model for things like this suggested the following on the development of tradition:
First) An event occurs and an action is performed in response to the event and appears to trigger a favorable outcome

Second) The action is performed even when the event no longer occurs in fear of a return of the event

Third) The original event is forgotten, but the action continues to be performed

Fourth) (My addendum) Reasons for the action are invented to justify its taking place

My thought on the subject is that we were once brutal, religion integrated that brutality into divine rights, the enlightenment arose and frowned upon brutality, currently the two paradigms (religion and enlightenment) run in parallel.
Thanks -- these are all thought-provoking responses. I wanted to respond to each of these, but I think it'd make more sense to do this all at once.

Supernatural justifications seem to me to arrive out of the same sort of steps Louis mentioned, where the original and more explainable event is forgotten or abstracted through the passage of narrative to the point of something other-worldly. I love the example of the bear; up through the Ice Age, bear were worshiped -- or at least veneered -- throughout the northern hemisphere. Bear skulls and bones are often found in ancient human burials. Of course bear were top-level predators, but they represented a kind of walking, snarling symbol of the cycle of the seasons; every winter they go under ground, just as the sun seems to sink under the horizon, and when the sun starts to return, so does the bear, but with cubs, and that's a signal that plants will begin growing again and the earth returns from death. (Robert Anton Wilson tried to link that kind of worship to the whole idea of the dying-and-rising god and Santa Claus.)

I'm an academic and did a lot of my training in Irish literature, history and culture, as well as spending a good stint in the Anglo-Saxon era so I could write about Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf (literally bear-wolf, bringing up the bear-god-man thing again). Going off what Jim was saying I know a lot of Irish customs were incorporated into the Catholic church on that island -- churches were built on top of pagan holy wells, for instance, and the priests just recast the mythology of such locations in Christian terms. That's actually also how Beowulf gets written; there's a lot of Christianity jammed into odd spots, and those parts are clearly not in accord with other parts of the story. Versions of the pagan story were known, but the monks transcribed such stories and wove in elements of their myth as a way to introduce the new faith. The ones who tried to just tell the Anglo-Saxons or Danes or Scots or Irish that their pagan worldview was wrong and they needed to convert or be damned often got a nasty headache. Something like Beowulf, in that light, becomes a form of propaganda.

So there you could trace the outlines of an animal-worshiping cult that gets mythologized into a super-hero who is in turn re-mythologized with a little Christian salt and pepper.

But as for women being property, that wasn't always the case -- again, going back to those North Atlantic islands, before the imposition of Christianity and Roman culture in general, women were on much more equal footing with men. They could own property, divorce if they chose, and even be tribal or military leaders. I'd have to double-check their response to rape, but off the top of my head, I think it was something that a woman could divorce over, take property as recompense, and wouldn't get in trouble if she killed her rapist husband. (In fact I think it wasn't unheard of for a man to be raped by a woman, but in general I don't think it was a staple activity that got folded into holy scrolls like in the Middle East.)
But as for women being property, that wasn't always the case -- again, going back to those North Atlantic islands, before the imposition of Christianity and Roman culture in general, women were on much more equal footing with men.

This pretty much jives with my statements, though. Wasn't the Scandinavian region the last part of Europe to settle down and develop fully agricultural societies?
There are some very good recent examples of religion subjugating the local culture. One of my theology professors was fond of telling the stories about Seventh-day Adventist missionaries going into an African village and noticing that the women were covered from their waist to their ankles. They waited until they had converted everybody to the Advent message before having the women raise their skirts from their waists to their arm pits.

The missionaries were very proud of how they had improved the modesty and morality of the village, until they noticed a lot more adultery and single women getting pregnant. Totally baffled they asked one of the local elders how this could be. The answer they got was that breasts were very functional and not sexual, but to see a woman's calf...

Rather than allow them to return their skirts to where they had been for thousands of years, the missionaries just made all the women make new clothes that covers everything below the armpits.

The professor used this as an example of how since religion is contextualized in your culture, that you need to recontextualize it, rather than just export it.

The Catholics were the best at doing this, Protestants have sucked at it. As far as I know Muslims have not done a very good job of it either, although the only Muslim country I've been to is Jordan, so it's already contextualized to Bedouin culture to begin with.

One thing that is unfortunate is that in a lot of areas the records are very poor before the current dominate religion arrived, so it's hard to tell what values were already there.

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