City Journal reviews Henrich's book The WEIRDest People in the World, which was also reviewed at Quillette last year, and I mentioned at length myself in September, and in passing in the post Cousin Marriage just a few weeks ago.
Those are all interesting in themselves as background, but one section jumped out at me.
Roman gods were not concerned about immoral behaviors like lying, cheating, and stealing. What upset them was the violation of oaths taken in their name. For instance, merchants had to swear sacred oaths to affirm the quality of their goods. Roman gods were said to be more concerned with their honor than the acts themselves.
It very much put me in mind of the Second Commandment (the numbering of the commandments differs among traditions), not to take the Lord's name in vain, which I have mentioned before in terms of "not signing God's name to your ideas," but does also have applicability to the swearing of oaths, especially in light of Jesus's specific teaching on swearing by the altar, the gift on the altar, the Temple, etc. Just interesting, because it likely indicates how strongly other ideas were current in the society at the time.
The topic ties in with much else I have taken interest in over the years, of moral development, European history, genetics, and drivers of current opinion. It seems to be coming up often for others as well.
There is also this from the review, and the parenthetical remark was especially arresting.
Across countries, belief in an afterlife that depends on one’s behavior in life is associated with greater economic productivity and less crime. The book presents data from 1965 to 1995 showing that, for every 20 percent increase in those who believe in hell and heaven, a country’s economy will grow an extra 10 percent in the ensuing decade and its murder rate will go down. (Intriguingly, murder rates rise alongside increases in the number of people who believe only in heaven.)
WRT the Roman gods--I seem to recall reading somewhere a claim the Jupiter had some protective attitude towards at least one defenseless group--but I don't recall from what era. It may have been a later addition in reaction to the devotion to other gods who were a bit more interested in morality.
I'd imagine that within the domain of their individual jurisdictions they'd have been enforcers of the rules their devotees were to follow, some of which were moral. But the domain would probably always be local--don't cheat your fellow goldsmith but cheating customers is OK...
Their original, pre-Greek, gods seem more cultic/magical and less moral or even mythological.
“I seem to recall reading somewhere a claim the Jupiter had some protective attitude towards at least one defenseless group--but I don't recall from what era.”
That was mentioned in Plato’s Laws, so you may be remembering it from our recent reading. Zeus was the god of boundaries; and, thus, took special interest in whether those from beyond the boundaries were treated fairly.
Ah, I had thought it was "strangers," which works out to the same thing as a practical matter. I will bet it goes back to the Indo-European guest-host value. https://assistantvillageidiot.blogspot.com/2018/12/ghosti.html
Is there an afterlife? I don't know, but I'm working my way towards finding out.
“Ah, I had thought it was ‘strangers,’ which works out to the same thing as a practical matter.”
Yes, I think that’s right. Plato gives it both ways, and I think the sacredness of boundaries to Zeus implies the care for those beyond. He defends your borders and keeps them sacred; in return, you have to treat those people from beyond the borders as sanctified by the magic of the border. That’s how I would read it.
It makes sense that belief in only heaven would correlate with a higher murder rate; both the victim and killer end up in heaven! I wonder what how belief in reincarnation correlates with murder and other crimes; a Hindu believes that bad behaviour in this life leads to inferior future lives, but a Buddhist believes that this can be gamed. Some Christians believe that you can be reborn and be washed of all past sins. And predestinarians tend to believe that your future afterlife is unrelated to your behaviour.
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