Moral Purity and Persecution in History

By Barrington Moore Jr. | Go to book overview

Epilogue

IN CONCLUDING this book on moral purity, it is useful to do two things. One is to present some very brief observations on morality in general in order to do away with possible misapprehensions. The other is to pull together the arguments in this book by an abbreviated review of the main steps in its construction.

This book has not been intended as an attack on morality as such. Every human society, large and small, has a set of moral rules about what must be done and, more importantly, what must not be done. Moral rules are absolutely necessary to enable human beings to work and live together. Rules against murder and theft are familiar examples. By no means every rule in every society contributes to human welfare. Many do just the opposite: think of the rule about burning widows in Hindu India. But we cannot exist without morality.

This book has not been intended as an attack on moral purity, either. There is a sense in which moral purity is unavoidable. Any society that tried to adopt every moral rule suggested by anybody and everybody, native or foreign, would soon disintegrate into chaos. A certain amount of pride in the morality of one's own group is not necessarily offensive. Moral purity becomes dangerous only as it becomes the basis for persecution at home and abroad.

To recap, our tale began with a unique historical event, the invention of monotheism by the ancient Hebrews. It is well to at least mention the existence of other important Hebrew moral creations, such as the rendering of justice independently of the accused's status. Surrounded by polytheistic societies and facing widespread reluctance among their own followers—recall the objections to the taste of manna and the hankering after the fleshpots of Egypt—the advocates of monotheism had to be stern, convinced of their righteousness, and, on occasion, cruel. Such was the legacy of the ancient Hebrews to Christianity and Islam. Any doctrine that seeks to control all or nearly all of

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