Fools and monsters

I’ve long respected the Amish—they aren’t Luddites, as typically portrayed, but a community that consciously deliberates over the effects of technology on social interactions, and limits those effects (in ways I would find personally disagreeable, but hey, it’s their life), and I like the fact that they are willing to let young members explore the life outside their communities. The recent murders were monstrous, their perpetrator sick and evil, and I can’t even imagine the pain those families have to be going through. This comment, though, says that at least some Amish also live a life of sad delusion.

“We think it was God’s plan, and we’re going to have to pick up the pieces and keep going,” he [Sam Stoltzfus, 63, an Amish woodworker] said. “A funeral to us is a much more important thing than the day of birth because we believe in the hereafter. The children are better off than their survivors.”

No, no they’re not, and this old kook should know better. If his claim were true, you’d have to argue that the murderer did a good thing for those children, and that parents ought to strangle their kids as soon as they’re born.


  1. #1 Chris
    October 4, 2006

    One more thing: I see a lot of group-selectionist just so stories being floated on this thread. Such an argument can’t be taken seriously without addressing the success of free riders who get the societal benefit of everyone else doing as they’re told (assuming arguendo that that is in fact a benefit to society and not just to its leaders; cooperation is good, but ideally it should *follow* a good collective decision-making procedure, not substitute for one) but are still free to act in their own interest when it suits them.

    Actually, I guess the religious do that anyway, so we’re back at square one. Religious belief doesn’t seem to have any noticeable behavioral effects other than advocating the religion itself, and it’s hard to see how that could be selection-positive.

    That’s why I incline more toward Dawkins’s parasite metaphor: religion is exploiting a weakness of human brains that developed as a side effect of something rather important, like the ability to communicate abstract concepts: while very valuable, it necessarily includes the ability to communicate lies and delusions. Religion-susceptibility has no survival benefit of its own (although in a society where most people burn heretics at the stake, you’d better at least be able to convincingly fake it).

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