Daniel Quinn Debate 2: Salvationist Religions

Daniel Quinn is the author of “Ismael,” “My Ismael,” and “The Story of B”. These books present some interesting ideas. In “The Story of B,” Quin says that today, you can go just about anyplace in the world, stop people on street corners, and say, “Let me tell you how to be saved,” and they’ll know what you mean. They’ll know that you want to convert them to your religion. He says that all of the major world religions are salvationist religions. The concept is that the all humans are essentially flawed, wrong, sinful, and need to be “saved” in some way. The exact goal varies – eternal life in heaven; freedom from the wheel of life; whatever – but the concept of being essentially flawed and in need of salvation is always there. The only people whose beliefs don’t include this concept are the few remaining hunter-gatherers scattered about in a few places in the world.

Quinn says that the development and growth of salvationist religions is a sign of distress, caused by population growth and the pressures it causes.

Quinn says that prior to the development of salvationist religions, people were animists. Animists don’t see people as flawed and in need of salvation; they see the world as a sacred place and all life as sacred; we’re not flawed, our neighbors aren’t flawed; we’re all sacred, and nobody needs to be saved.

Here are links to a Daniel Quinn website and some relevant items from its Q&A section–

The Ismael Website

The Questions & Answers Page

Question: But Buddhism isn’t salvationist, is it? Answer: Yes it is.

Q&A with information on the nature of salvationist religions.

I have no religion. Looking at it from the outside, I have to think that if I wanted a relgion, I would not want one that was based on the idea that everyone is essentially flawed (born bad; born in a state of sin; born to suffer) and in need of salvation.

I find it ironic that some Christians say that it’s bad for children to teach them about science in general and evolution in particular, because that “teaches them that they’re just animals,” or decended from animals / related to animals / no better then animals. Religion and “creationism,” will, OTOH, teach them that they’re “part of god”. Well, hey, as a matter of fact we are animals. But aside from that, how is it supposed to be such a good idea to expose children to a religon that teaches them that they are automatically bad people; that they were born bad, sinful, flawed, wrong?

Hazel, the one thing about animism is that it teaches that we are no more than animals. Generally, man, including myself, want to be more than ‘just an animal’. That is why I reject it out of hand. After all, I as a Black man was taught that Blacks were just animals. I rejected that idea then, and I reject it now.

The concept of the Divine is not only for worshipping purposes, but it is a path for man to become a lot more than what he is, in hope of becoming a part fo the Divine ourselves, and not taking shortcuts to doing it either. Yes, it is selfish, unworthy goal to you, but I think that it a wowhile one.

I meant a worthwhile one.

heh, doncha think that most of civilisation has only demonstrated the wrong/bad/evil/flawed theory of human nature?
'cause the holocaust was definitely perpetrated by perfect
sacred beings, right?

or am i just too cynical?

after all; to err is human, to forgive divine, as they say in those salvationist religions.

Irishgirl, if everyone is born flawed and wrong and in need of saving, why do only some people do evil things? It can’t be because the evildoers and the unsaved are one and the same. Members of salvationist religions have committed evil acts; atheists, agnostics, and animists have lived blamless lives.

Capacitor, it seems to me that humans can aspire to anything they like, but I think they are in error if they deny being animals. I think they’re in error if they see themselves as not being part of nature.

But don’t you see that you’re rejecting something simply because you don’t want to believe it? Shouldn’t religion be about reconciling oneself to the truth rather than reinforcing baseless wishful thinking?

What if man’s destiny isn’t to be part of the divine? Then to try to attain the divine, for us, could be as wrong-headed as a cockroach trying to be a supercomputer. “What? That makes no sense!” you say. Exactly!
Shouldn’t a man try to be what the divine ordains him to be? To be a the best human being he can be without some false hope of ascension to demi-godhood or whatnot?

But seriously, you don’t understand Quinn’s animism. (In fact, I don’t believe you grok any animism [as opposed to, say, rationalist materialism].) To Daniel Quinn, we are within the divine, for the world is divine, and we become reconciled to the divine, and enter into it (becoming, if you will, saved) by living as a part of the world, revering it & accepting our natural place in it.
This is naturally opposed to Gnosticism, quasi-Gnostic Christianity, and classic Buddhism, which are all committed to escaping a world they see as nightmarish and unlivable. The fruit of these religions is around us today in the Kantian-Benthamite-hedonist techno-utopian society that refuses to recognize any rights or values as natively inhering in anything non-human.
Are we animals? Of course! Are other animals worth more than we modern children of Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, and Karl Marx have been taught to think? Yes, I think so. Are our lives and comforts worth less than many insist? Oh, definitely! And that’s ok! The world is a whole, complex and beautiful and terrible. And a true religion must understand the truth of the world and man’s true place in it.

By the way, I’m not just some Quinn disciple. I have read Ishmael and Providence, and think he’s right about some things and lost on others.

And Hazel, yeah, I agree with you. The doctrine of total depravity was one reason I left Christianity.

When we humans see ourselves as different from / superior to animals; when we see ourselves as being outside of / above nature… These attitudes lead to the belief that it’s our proper destiny to use everything else in the world for our own ends: cut down those redwoods and build things, kill all the buffalo so there will be more grazing land for our cows, etc. Crowd out every plant and animal species except for the ones we make some direct use of. And force every human alive into our world-civilization.

Remember James Watt? He believed that we should get busy. We don’t know when Jesus will return. When he comes back, he’ll expect us to have used up all the fruits of the earth. [sarcasm mode on] So no shilly-shallying! Get busy! Drill those oil wells in Colombia. If the whole U’wa tribe commits mass suicide, good riddence. [sarcasm mode off]

No, I am rejecting it out of hand because Black people were taught for 400 years that we were ‘just animals’. We were taught this since we were born. “We are not responsible for our behavior more than a dog is. We should be shot down in the street if we misbehave slightly. We would amount to nothing in society.” I struggle as well as others do to free myself and help others out of such indoctrination. You think that I just want to go back there?

Where is the sense of moral accountability? Where is the sense that we are obligated, by being over the animals to do more than our share to protect our planet, as opposed to having a smiley face and ‘know our role’ and shuffle our feet. I saw no benefits to Black people being told time and time again that we are ‘just animals’. Just because one attributes the term ‘animal’ to the entire human race, it doesn’t mean that they will think of themselves that way, and only attribute that to us.

According to Christianity, Black people are all sinners.

Of course we’re just animals.

The biggest, baddest tool-making animals on the planet! Woooo! Go H. sapiens!

I also have to object to this modifier “just” in the statement “Humans are ‘just’ animals”. Human beings are animals, period. If human beings are capable of contemplating beauty or formulating systems of ethics or pondering philosophy, that means that animals–some animals, anyway–are capable of contemplating beauty or formulating systems of ethics or pondering philosophy. Would anyone say “Cheetahs can sprint at 70mph? But cheetahs are ‘just animals’!” Yes, and some animals can sprint at 70mph. Some animals can fly. Some animals can build spaceships and land on the Moon.

I dissagree. When we see ourselves as differen’t from animals then we get conservation and “save the planet” types. Because if we are just animals then we will expand untill we can’t expand any more.

ME, in the Bible it says all men are sinners, not just Blacks.

Exactly what I was going to say, MEBuckner. I find myself saying that a lot in this forum. :slight_smile:

I think capacitor is mistaken on what it means to be an animal. I believe he thinks it means “not human”. And by that definition we can’t be just animals. But since we are animals, what it means to be human is contained within what it means to be an animal. Whatever we are, animals are too, not the other way around.

capacitor and Dr. Lao:

Yes, of course. And the people who say that human beings are animals are saying that all human beings are animals.


We might not be animals for the rest of our species’ existence, though. We may someday engineer artificial brains for us to transfer our brain patterns into, and put them atop robotic bodies that are practically immortal. We wouldn’t be animals, then – we wouldn’t even be “life” as we classify life today.

Although I wish they’d hurry up and build my robotic body first. This old lump of meat I inhabit ain’t gonna last forever, y’know.

No. We are not animals.

You know why? Because we say so.

Human or animal? Alive or dead? Vegetable or mineral? Those words mean nothing. This whole universe is just a bunch of subatomic particles circling each other, endlessly, and anyone who claims otherwise is just being subjective. We may see patterns everywhere, but without us seeing them, do those patterns exist?

We can define ourselves any way we want; we can do this because if we didn’t exist, there would be no definitions.

Thank you.

Well, I do think there are objective facts out there, and one of those objective facts is that every human being ultimately has ancestors which were not human, and which we would classify as “animals”–in fact, organisms which we wouldn’t even recognize as “animals”. We share common ancestors not only with our fellow animals, but with plants and fungi and microbes. Making some arbitrary distinction between “humans” and “animals” obscures these facts, and I don’t see any good coming from obscuring the facts. This is not to say we can’t make meaningful distinctions among different animals: all members of the species Homo sapiens are animals, but obviously not all animals are members of H. sapiens. All human beings are persons, and all persons are animals (so far, at least), but not all animals are persons. (Whether or not any non-human animals are persons, and if so which ones, is something which could be pretty hotly debated.) But all of these distinctions exist within the context that human persons are born of animals and remain animals.

But the thing is, MEB (and excuse me if I get a bit confusing), defining something by its geneology is also a subjective definition. Why should something be defined solly by its past? Why is that the most important category?

A rather simplistic example - you have a human being, a perfertly proportioned mannikin, and a cockroach, and you are asked to group the two most similar. Now, you, as a scientific-minded person, you would probably group the man and the cockroach together, because htey’re both animals. But the mannikin is similar to the man in size, shape, weight and color, and the cockroach is not. So why shouldn’t you group the man and the mannikin together? Why does a biological definition take precedence over all others?

Another question - you have a man, a cockroach and a computer. Now, if your definition is biology or geneology, you’d group the man and the roach together; but if your definition is “ability to solve mathemeatical problems”… what then?

Well, there’s arbitrary, and then there’s arbitrary. Different classification schemes for different purposes will put things in different categories. For example, I’ve seen cookbooks that include clams, lobsters, and turtles in the category of “shellfish”. To an evolutionary biologist, that would make no sense as a taxonomic scheme, but it may make perfect sense to a cook, since (I presume) the methods of preparing those three different creatures to be eaten are somewhat similar. On the other hand, if you had a category “anthropormorhpic statues”, which included Lord Nelson’s statue at Trafalgar Square, Rodin’s Thinker, the Colossus of Rhodes, and ancient Egyptian statues of Nefertiti, but which did not include the Statue of Liberty, I would think that was kind of a weird classification scheme. There are good reasons for putting members of Homo sapiens in one category, and other animals in another, if for example we’re talking about ethics and law. I don’t think homicide should be treated the same way we treat canicide, or vice versa. But we can’t pretend that humans aren’t animals at all, because that fact may force us to rethink some of our other categories. For example, if a chimpanzee learns sign language, can we still maintain a simple black and white, “human or animal” classification scheme when it comes to ethics? What if someone discovered living Neanderthals somewhere, or Homo habilis?

It’s also not just genealogy. We still have a lot in common with other animals, certainly in terms of our anatomy or metabolism, but even in terms of neurology and cognitive processes. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of differences, but we can’t pretend the similarities aren’t there.