happiness that goes beyond the mere absence of pain and suffering. People feel joy and happiness for things both minor and major. I would describe the absence of pain and suffering as contentment perhaps. The Buddhist would argue that the absence of those things leads to a state of permanent bliss, which is more powerful than transient happiness. However, the Buddhist view also assumes that the fleeting nature of happiness we feel is a source of suffering, because even during those moments we are weighed down by the idea that the happiness will not last. I do not feel that this is necessarily the case. Permanent bliss and happiness are two different things, and the possibility of one does not eliminate the value of and possibility of the other.
Even a refugee can experience euphoria, yes. This is a loaded question, actually, because of the framing. It is certainly less likely that someone in a position of extreme duress will feel happiness, but the duress of their situation does not mean that they can never feel happiness. How much euphoria can one experience? As much as the situation dictates. Some lives are inherently more challenging, but all humans possess the same capability for happiness.
Morality is entirely learned. Morality by its nature is a human construct, because it refers to the codes and systems of behavior by which human beings relate to one another. Each person in a society is more or less aware of that society's version of morality, but sometimes chooses to redefine the terms of that morality. This does not mean that such individuals lack morality on a genetic level, only that they conform less to the moral standards of overall society. The Holocaust in part occurred because there only nominal moral prohibitions on the violent persecution of certain minorities -- homosexuals were always illegal, Jews and Roma faced violent pogroms consistently in Europe, and political opponents long faced execution. The situation in Syria reflects the morality of autocratic leaders, who feel empowered to define their own morality. They often do so in terms of violent repression -- their own rule is considered morally superior to the well-being of their people. Morality, even of the type outsiders to a culture would find abhorrent, is still learned.
Part II. Most people have trouble with ambiguity of any kind. Human societies have long sought to eliminate ambiguity because many people tend to prefer having clearly defined answers to questions. The universe, however, does not have any such black-and-whiteness about it. Christianity is simply one of those codes by which people can simplify the world into things like "right" and "wrong." Most religions and most cultures operate much the same way. It just makes life simple. In a constant state of ambiguity, it is difficult to make decisions and it is difficult to reconcile one's own actions with a desire to function in a society with other humans. So the natural ambiguity represents a challenge. Laws, religions and societal norms are all mechanisms by which we seek to reduce ambiguity and help us to make decisions about how to live our lives. Christianity may be a major source of influence in the United States (as is Enlightenment thinking) but it is just one of many such codes at work in the U.S., and around the world.
Part III. If Christianity were to emerge now instead of 2000 years ago, it might have some different characteristics. It would in all likelihood incorporate a lot of what we know today in terms of scientific knowledge. For example, instead of saying that God created the earth in six days, the story might still hold that God created the world, but that this took place billions of years ago. Essentially, the idea that everything on this world is made for humans and that there is a divine plan for humans could still exist, just that everything to this point would be described as we know it, and argued as something that was part of God's plan. Man's relationship to nature does not seem to me to be something inherent in Christianity, as much as man's relationship to God is. So the relationship with nature could be entirely rethought without changing the most important aspects of religion.
Religion-based beliefs are probably not as culpable as we think in the deteriorating state of the planet. Not all religions have the same views as Christianity, and some nations are not particularly religious at all (China). Yet, they contribute just as much to the destruction of the planet. There is an element within the United States that uses religion to convince people that environmental action is a negative thing, but this affects a small portion of the country and it affects a small portion of the destruction. Consumerism and the desire for rising living standards regardless of cost contribute more. So while organized religion is not really a big part of the problem, it actually could be part of the solution. Religion allows people to be fairly easily influenced, so a religious argument could convince people to re-think their consumption patterns. This is unlikely, but religion still holds a lot of persuasive power, should it be used in this way.
Part IV. There are two sides to this discussion, the first being an understanding of Western ethical thought and the second being Eastern ethical thought. Western ethics derive principally from two eras- ancient Greece and the Enlightenment. Greece gave us Aristotle in particular, and he articulated virtue ethics, or the idea that there are certain things that are right and certain things that are wrong. This idea works well in a world where there are only a handful of cultures, or where people are willing to accept that there are only a few things that are absolutely wrong. Christianity then added to ethics in a different way, with dictates from the Bible that would determine morality. These actually drove ethics and morality in the West for a long time, and provide a lot of guidance today as well. Enlightenment thinking went back to the Greeks and built on some of their ideas. There are ethical frameworks based on both rules and outcomes in Western philosophy. Primary is the idea of the supremacy of the individual, something that not only comes from the Christian faith but also comes from Renaissance and Enlightenment emphasis on breaking free from the Church -- the individual thus gained in importance. Our societies in general incorporate a mix of different ideas.
With respect to business, Western culture understands business as transaction-oriented, first and foremost. Then, the objective is to make money, operating within the bounds of the prevailing laws. There are few if any ethical codes that people operate by, and most people in business will do anything that is either legal or that they think they can get away with. Ultimately, this is why Western business places a strong emphasis on contracts and lawyers, because Western business people do not generally trust one another. We have phrases like "business never personal" that encapsulate how we treat each other in business, and why we feel the need to protect ourselves with finely-worded contracts, and why we feel it acceptable to send different representatives to successive meetings.
Eastern business culture is quite different on a number of these points. The philosophy of Eastern business begins with the fact that society is more important than the individual, which is the opposite to Western thinking. One of the ways in which this manifests is that putting one's own interests above that of the organization is not accepted in Eastern business ethics, or in Eastern government. Corruption, for example, only exists where it is seen as part of a greater system. In many Eastern countries, it…