Posted by: rudyruddell | April 22, 2012

Humanism is Tribalism on Steroids

Humanism is Tribalism on Steroids

                Many theists have difficulty in understanding how atheist/humanists get their morals if they did not get them by stealing them from Christianity. The answer is really quite simple: Tribalism evolved to become more and more inclusive until it reached all of humanity.

As descendants of a common primate ancestor, bonobos and Homo sapiens demonstrate altruistic behavior. Altruistic behavior in animals is most commonly observed in immediate family members. Such altruism can easily be explained evolutionarily by virtue of a species’ innate desire to pass on their genes. It also makes sense for animals, including humans, to be kind to their extended family because of the common genetic makeup. In spite of the genetic aspect, primates have been shown to have mirror neurons in the brain that enable empathy. The ability to empathize was not selective for relatives. Acquiring the ability to empathize with relatives also allowed empathizing with non-relatives.

With the ability to emphasize, we humans can experience the feelings of others. It is this empathy that is manifested when we help out or risk our life for a family member or even a fellow tribe member. In prehistoric eras, humans lived in tribes based on extended families. In order for these family tribes to survive they needed to cooperate. For example, to kill a giant mammoth, the cooperation of several men was required. Empathizing also helped form larger tribes that included non-family members. These tribes formed common beliefs and religions, which caused them to be different from other tribes. Tribes formed confederations and villages. As more people adopted a particular belief, many times through conquest, villages became cities and cities became nations. Culture and religion was the glue that held groups together. This cooperation helped the population grow; thus, empathy had an evolutionary value since it helped perpetuate the species. Unfortunately, religion also caused wars because of the in-group and out-group effect.

Religions such as Christianity and Islam helped perpetuate the species by spreading the religion throughout the world. For example, after the 1492 eviction of Muslims from Spain, the religious fervor of success helped inspire them to send Columbus to the New World, which spread Christianity. In the United States, Manifest Destiny (the belief that God wanted the U.S. to expand west) helped spread the settlement in the western United States.

Now that the world’s population exceeds 7 billion, religion is no longer needed to perpetuate our species. Now, we need to unite to preserve our home on this small blue dot. Humanism is a worldview that looks beyond in-groups and out-groups of religion in order to pursue what is best for all of humanity. Humanism considers all of humanity to be one big tribe.

My thesis is not that the world is going to unite as one big happy family. My point was that religion stands in the way of world peace. This blog entry was inspired by an Ardent Atheist Podcast (#62) in which a guest asked where atheists get their morals. The podcast did not give an adequate answer, in my view, so I tried to explain where morality comes from. Our morals, in my view, come from society evolving, based on empathy, toward larger and large tribes. Humanism, in my view is superior to religion because it takes into account the interest of all humans, not just those inside a subgroup.



  1. I enjoyed reading the facts. I am often disappointed by religious people. While at work, a fellow SW accidentally called a client by her grandsons name and stopped, with a gasp, and said “OMG Jesus JJ is thinking about me I have to call him”-what I call insight, she calls a special vision from god. We discussed it further, looking at the DSMivtr and the bible (worthless that it is) and agreed that she has insight into the feelings of others due to harsh conditions of survival and institutional racism that affords her few opportunities. She was sad she didn’t have special hocus pocus skills…and I was sad for her because the realistic skills she possessed made her far more valuable and empathetic than the fake skills. I noticed how people who have religion or spirituality, really have a strong drive for the need to be special. Even to the point they will manipulate and lie, often unaware of their own learned behaviors, and when confronted, accuses the confrontor of
    being possessed by a demon. At this point I just have to walk away….with a brief “well if you ever want to talk about those delusions, I’m available” and leave my card. sigh.

    • In trying to understand why she would rather think that a supernatural force was responsible for her talent rather than her genetics and personal experiences, the best I can come up with is that she may not have wanted the responsibility that comes with the talent. If God gave her the skill, then it is God’s job to bring it to fruition. If she earned the talent by being a victim and suffering, then it is her responsibility to use her talent.

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