Rational Religion

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On Teaching Ethics


There are a number of human reasons for putting salt on a banana slug.  They all have more or less the same result for the slug, but the differences for a human child can be profound.


It might be a sincere (if misguided) attempt simply to get rid of a pest.  (Believe me; there are better ways.)


It might be a scientific experiment; to observe what happens.  This is possibly excusable, if done once or twice.


Unfortunately it is more likely to be an exercise in mindless cruelty.  See the ugly creature squirm and die!


If the emphasis is on ridding one's world of an unattractive fellow-life-form, it is prejudicial violence.  If the emphasis is on watching the throes of death, it is incipient sadism.


A wise parent, and a wise society, will try to head off both motivations in its children.


(A tip, here:  If you poison the slugs in your garden, after trying to tell your child it is wrong to dose one with salt, don't try to justify your action with anything but the truth. 


“There are too many of the hungry little rascals and the baby vegetable plants need a chance to get big enough to do their job.”


If you try to say that the slug, being a lower life form, doesn't suffer the way humans do when it is poisoned, you are sending a severely mixed signal. In the first place, not being a slug, you can't be sure of this, and any kid who has watched a slug die from salting is not going to believe it isn't in some kind of pain.  You also don't know that snail bait isn't just as painful - from the inside -as salt is on the outside.


Your kids are going to have enough reasons and occasions to question what you tell them about the universe.  Try to keep the easily-avoided conflicts to a minimum.)