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Book Review: The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt

I know what you’re thinking – the last thing the world needs is yet another self-help book telling you to be nice to people, love yourself and ask the universe for stuff. And generally, I’d agree.

But The Happiness Hypothesis is different. Haidt is a psychology professor and researcher at the University of Virginia, and his book his a well-written, fairly dense synthesis of the latest research on happiness expressed in laymen’s terms. Haidt organizes his discussion around ten pieces of “ancient wisdom” – one might be forgiven for suspecting that his publisher forced him to put it this way – but the result is a broad exploration of things that studies have consistently shown contribute to human happiness, along with a certain amount of speculation on the evolutionary advantages of certain behaviors and inbuilt reactions.… Read the rest

The Ten Commitments

The American Humanist Association has elaborated what they call the Ten Commitments, an obvious parallel to the Ten Commandments, as an attempt to define the core values – values not defined by the belief in a deity – that we should be teaching in schools. As an attempt to crystallize a set of goals for the teaching of values independent of specific religious sources, it is laudable and helpful. But can we, as they suggest, teach values”¬†free of ideology and theology.” Or are values necessarily derived from a specific ideological worldview and a specific position with regard to the nature of, or existence of, a supreme lawgiver?… Read the rest

Religion, tolerance and crowbars

In Timbuktu, Ansar Dine are destroying ancient mausolea and monuments that under their strict interpretation of Islam they consider to be forbidden. Apart from being a war crime, the destruction of Mali’s ancient heritage seems to be what we could call an intolerable act of intolerance. Clearly tolerance has limits if the concept is to have any value or meaning – I’m under no obligation to tolerate your religions practice if they include burning heretics at the stake, for example. But one can imagine a member of Asnar Dine responding that he is under no obligation to tolerate an ancient monument if it is offensive to Allah.… Read the rest

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