Rebuilding windows yesterday, a neighbor came over and said our horses had got out again. Our fences are difficult to maintain with deer breaking through them, trees crashing down, and lightning strikes destroying fence charges. I got them back without using halters. They are like little kids prancing around me, fighting for position close to the snacks I brought. I wish I had the time to spend with them. They enjoy the company and like to work. Today I must go chainsaw up the fallen trees and repair fence. Yet, I linger on this device unhappy that Karen Armstrong’s big reviews are almost always positive.
With 2-3 politicians openly atheist, it’s hard to imagine that atheists are such a cultural problem. With so much damnation that if secularism were true it would catch on like a smart phone… With popular atheists acting as wrongly sexist, and more so than the general population, her arguments will no doubt appeal.
It is quite unlikely that I will read “Fields of Blood” by Karen Armstrong. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t agreed with what she has said so far. Perhaps, it is because I am on a limited budget or what seems limited to me. The reviews of her book appear in the Guardian, the Spectator, Kirkus, the Telegraph, the Scotsman, and whyevolutionistrue. The Scotsman states her premise
Armstrong is right – very right – to point out that all societies are founded on theft and intimidation, and that a systemic violence underpins and upholds the concept of civilisation itself. That we have science, art, culture, engineering, cities and philosophy at all is bought by the blood of billions of anonymous humans who died tens of thousands of years ago.
The growing trend of excusing religion and attacking secularism often pins on the insistence that cultural, political, material, and biological reasons create the massive violence, xenophobia, misogyny, and general dishonesty in the world.
The difficulties ensue. If religions don’t foster violence, or provide cover to violent urges, how do we begin the discussion with those who say their violence is most definitely for religious reasons?
Relating that religions were never separate from culture before the axial age is a bit like saying there has always been science even in hunter-gather culture because they saw things and made hypotheses, tested them, and then kept what was true or useful. It’s true but doesn’t describe the evolution of science in culture. Perhaps we should eliminate the word religion and call the phenomenon “world view” and religion an industrial world view or commodified world view or politicized world view or what? It really doesn’t matter in helping decide whether modern or old religion is a cause of human violence and suffering. Certainly the trust in a shaman or sorcery that caused harm still caused harm just as the trust that a jealous god demands no competition creates harm.
Armstrong maintains there are secular wars that have nothing to do with religion, which is true in some cases. But saying Germany and Hitler had nothing to do with Judaism or religion is just plain false. Based on the belief that the Jews had a disproportion of wealth and intellectual accounts doesn’t mean Hitler and others did not see this religion as both a means of identity and a scourge. He certainly didn’t forgive marginalized, disenfranchises, or Jews that were by relation only. He certainly didn’t go after wealth, the means of achievement, or the basic support of the system that created the wealth. He went after a people, and a religion, because they were religious, and the people followed that hook.
Too many say that it is the action that is unsupported and the knowledge-base is irrelevant. Thievery is bad and whether they do it for need, religion, or life-vitality is most relevant. It is convenient to do this to allow some sort of acceptance of contrary views, or those who have left a view but value its tradition, but at some point you have to acknowledged that it is the knowledge base that empowers, delineates, and formalizes the action. Would Christians have gone for Jerusalem if they didn’t have a Christ they thought born there? More importantly what other outlet would there have been for their cultural and political issues? Certainly more peaceful outlets could occur. An individual, when losing their temper, can beat their spouse, kick the cat, go for a run, chop wood for the fire, meditate, or seek their therapist. Which you do makes all the difference in the world, and which you do depends on the culture that uses their religion or world view to define what is appropriate. Much like TV may not create violence but violent acts are copycated. If they had known a positive resolution they likely have imitated that.
Religious rituals can embrace material causes. Marvin Harris rightly noted that pigs were hated after their habitat was gone. The aggressive and surviving animals wrecked havoc on cities, and became so great a nuisance, and so quick to replenish, that some massive cultural change was needed to prevent any outliers from starting the whole problem over again. A modern example would be to use religion to create universal vaccination without exception, or climate change prevention. This is why religious people call big tent issues religious. They seem all embracing, and evidence of a basic world view.
But this isn’t what secularists are saying. They do not say religion is bad because everyone follows one to create universal change. If the manifold and many religions of the world collide together there must be some sort of means of resolution to get things done that must be available to to all. Democracy requires a majority to agree, and that the balance of that tyranny is met by rights. The only way to do this with modern mobility is to not allow any one religion, culture, or politics to dominate. Does it matter if you call it a religion? If the people who vote say they are voting because their sacred text says so or their religious culture says so you do have to take them at their word. Yes, the religious view can be deconstructed to other causes to help the case; your religion says to stone adulterers, we don’t do that now. But there had better be some good reasons not to other than it just seems better not to, or my religion says no to stoning. Discussion has to center around whether stoning is effective or desired, and why, in a way that everyone can relate to, or make some sort of effective opinion, or create change. Reasoning must have a place or we might as well stop talking.
Reasoning itself is an antidote to outright violence. Religions deny the value of reason for sorcery, magic, and the primacy of the subjective experience as universal.
The push against essentialism and biology holds to a point. We wish to avoid stereotyping and not treat individuals as such. Why? It is easy to mistake the motivations and reasoning of the person(s) involved. If there are 10, 20, or 100 variables that make up a person’s decision process, focusing on the ones you think they may be jumps to conclusion. Yet, acknowledging that biological anger (if it exists) or patriarchy (if it is cultural) are very real systemic or endemic problems helps inform remediation and restoration. If a culture shows great evidence that sexual predation has a high recidivism then those crimes and restitution would be different than thievery which shows to have low recidivism. That this is a state or dynamic issue acknowledge that it could eventually be different and require knew rules and processes. It is also wrong to assume that every sexual predator will be recidivistic. If you don’t know the actual reasons you have to have multiple resolutions until you do. And some things become so serious they monopolize the conversation.
The modern difficulty is the abstraction of knowledge of the individual to laws that apply to all. In once case Jill makes a bad mistake, really knows better, and will unlikely do it again. In another, Joe may be going to do it again without question. It’s one of the reasons that analysis of character applies in sentencing and even in assessing guilt. In societies where people no longer closely associate with each other it is near impossible to provide good analysis. The easiest solution is the demand to follow authority, whether it’s a person, a people, a law, or a culture. Indeed the current trend to virtue ethics is just that. To divorce the individual from having to reason, which is time consuming. It makes sense as a way of treating people as whole units and not judge by ether personality, situation, or motivation. We simply don’t care because it’s about building a character that generates good action.
But that may not be helpful in the long run. Virtue of care, healing everyone becomes dust when care is met by retaliation, destroying the caregiver. People, need their reasons and so called emotions. Change also creates outliers and outlier communities that are going to create friction. Mobility has to give way to creating consensus for decisions that affect multiple disparate groups and some will not be pleased. A misogynist being told they are naturally that way, or that their sacred text caused them to be that way, is not going to create the change until they recognize themselves that they are even misogynistic. You have to sling a bunch of causes to them and assume that what sticks is at least a start. We have to deal with individuals, their individual reasons, and somehow create a coherent, effective, society that spans across religions, cultures, politics, biology, situations, and environment.
If a religion says to do something for some reason we must address that just as secularists must address their own issues of, for example, embedded sexism. If atheism really means “no gods” and nothing more that is as vapid as saying everything is field and energy. How are you going to grow corn with that? There is a way. It means understanding the structures entailed by the ideology as it is experienced now and observed by others.
Jim Newman, www.frontiersofreason.com