I'm finishing up Robert Wright's "The Evolution of God". Right now he's going over Philo's influence on Judeo Christian theology and thought. In particular he is talking about how the Isreali/near-eastern goddess Wisdom was subsumed into the idea of Logos. However, what is really interesting is how, this purposeful shift also included a karma-like reasoning about practical religious truth. This is the idea that Wise religious truth reflects probabilistic consequences which reflect practical reality (in the D.S. Wilson sense). For example, stealing may do nothing to any one individual. But, it increases your chances of having something bad happen to you. It also has societal level effects via probabilistic aggregation.
While these ideas are fairly basic points for anyone studying the science of religion from an evolutionary point of view, they do make one think about the population level rhetorical turn taken in social justice over the last few years.
Here's the rough parallel.
Pre-axial religion usually had "sin" as something that was offensive to a deity. It wasn't morally wrong in our sense of the word, rather it just ticked off some animistic deity who happened to notice it for some reason*. But Philo's Hellenistic turn started to see sin in more practical terms. Sin increasingly became something that probabilistically led to bad outcomes, both for the individual and for society-as-a-group. It was a shift from individual actions which may or may not have been noticed to probabilistic results which were always wrong whether or not they were noticed.
I suspect we have a similar shift in Social Justice. Racism used to be individualistic. What largely mattered was how you treated an individual. But the idea that words could cause group or population level attitudinal changes became increasingly important. You then had the "words = violence" and "structural racism" turn.
These modern sins are now seen as population level probabilities. They aren't wrong because of any individual consequences they may or may not have. Indeed, there is a shift away from materially observable actions produced by individuals (the pre-axial, its the consequences that are bad - actions are just risky, not "sinful") to theoretically imaginable effects based on population level aggregations and inferred causality.
This "Hellenistic" turn match is neat in a couple of ways. It:
- diminishes the role of material effects,
- shifts the loci where quasi-factuality occurs (away from arbitrary deity attention into population level aggregation),
- increases universality (sin effects are "real" regardless of your parthenonical theology)
- shifts sin's zone of analysis from an individual to a group.
As a whole, this produces a very neat memetic shift into abstract universalism. It also affords scientific imprimatur. This makes it rhetorically and memetically fit.
*Of course there was also civil law. Murder was wrong in this sense. It was something that was societally punished. Was it also "sinful"? Probably. But, from my own thinking it probably didn't tick off the gods in the same sense. It was something that, instead, ticked off people in the society reliably enough to be guaranteed to ticked of governing bodies.