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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Next Meta Question

If we want to consider whether religion is good or evil, if it should be encouraged or opposed, how important is it to examine the effect religion has had to date?

Obviously past performance is not necessarily predictive of future behavior. But, it is strong evidence, no? Perhaps we could stop short of abolishing organized religion by studying it impact on history to determine where it has gone wrong.

8 comments:

Linda said...

Jim, how can we even talk about abolishing organized religion? That's ludicrous! Are we talking about all religions? Or are we responding to the resistance of people who particularly hate or fear Christianity? If so, which manifestation of Christianity?

Religions have emerged multi-form throughout time as expressions of awe in response to Mystery. Who would want to kill that even if they could? We only need to irradicate the condemnation that exists between religious groups, including those that identify themselves as "non."

I understand that some of the "non"s are particularly fond of pointing out harm that has been done in the name of religion -- and indeed there has been plenty. I submit that there has been no more, no less violence against the earth and her creatures by religious people than by non-religious people. Those who claim association with a religious group represent a cross-section of society that pretty much parallels those who aren't associated with a religious group.

The weakness in this line of thinking is related to the tendency to lay blame for the harm on religious affiliation. Let's lay it where it belongs. Jung would say it lies in the shadow side of each of us, in the qualities we would rather not own. All of us have a shadow side where the potential for doing evil lies. Some of us work deliberately at managing our darker energies, choosing to exercise the strength of our positive or culturally acceptable energies.

Sometimes evil has emerged within organized religion. Sometimes it has emerged other places in our culture. We practiced torture under the guise of interrogation at Abu Grahib. Should we conclude that all interrogation is bad and should be stopped, or just the torture part? Should we do away with all religion, or just the practices that do harm? And then how would we do away with them? We can legislate to correct military practices of torture. We will have to speak to the illuminated sides of religious people, teach them how to manage their shadow sides, in order to learn how not to do harm in the name of religion, and beyond that, how to do good in the name of religion.

I'm more interested in people of faith studying religion to see where it has done good or gone wrong than I am in hearing what people have to say about it who just stand outside it and criticize. In fact I'm weary of that.

JimII said...

Jim, how can we even talk about abolishing organized religion? That's ludicrous!

It is good that astrology, for most people, is a hobby. Likewise, I would discourage fortune telling. So, although I do not believe we should oppose or abolish religion, I pose the question ernestly, because there are old practices that are not good for society. (BTW, I also appreciate your ernest response.)

I submit that there has been no more, no less violence against the earth and her creatures by religious people than by non-religious people.

I agree. The Hitler/Stalin/Mao retort. I cheer the rest of what you say as well. Having not read Jung, I appreciate you bringing him into the fight!

I'm more interested in people of faith studying religion to see where it has done good or gone wrong than I am in hearing what people have to say about it who just stand outside it and criticize. In fact I'm weary of that.

I'm more interested in that as well. However, I think some people who stand on the outside and critize are potential allies, and people who can be served.

Linda said...

If the question you pose is a rhetorical tool, hammer away with it. I think the task of articulating a list of the good and evil caused by religion might be insurmountable. Not all of the practices that do harm are old -- humans are clever people thinking of new ways to do harm all the time.

Also, if argument can engage and perhaps win the respect of non-religious people for the good that has been accomplished in the name of religion, then we should continue the argument.

There are 2 points that I think are important:

We generally expect only good to come from religious groups, which makes any harm that comes from them more atrocious than harm that comes from non-religious groups. The difference is our expectation. (If Jim Jones commands mass suicide we say it was his religion gone bad; if Charles Manson commits mass murder we say he was insane. We dismiss insanity more readily than we dismiss bad religion. And we totally miss the question -- weren't they both suffering from mental illness exaggerated by drugs?) We should give this much energy to routing out the causes of mental illness -- that would be more useful to society than studying whether or not to demonize religion.

Second: It is human nature to use alibi to excuse ourselves from harmful behavior. I believe the practice of alibi is what leads people to cloak hatred, oppression, racism or any form of vilification in religion (or nationalism, or, or). We do harm in the name of whatever group is bigger than the individual to give credence to the harm. This, Jim, is the most heinous abuse of faith or any other form of allegiance, and every form of allegiance bears the potential of becoming that kind of cover. From the time I was a kid I remember crying when I heard people use their faith in God as an excuse for their racism. I remember saying, "Don't you use my God that way." Fifty years later, my position hasn't moved much from there.

Matt Dick said...

Linda,

I hope my discussions haven't put me in the position of being the "non" who is fond of pointing out the problems. If it seems that way, I'll plead that these discussions came from a larger, more honest conversation that Jim and I were having, and I specifically abandoned it because it was too easy to fall into the perception of just this thing.

As it happens, I think you are entirely correct when you say the religious and the Christian are more or less a perfect cross-section of the population. That having been said, I do think there is an academic value to trying to tease out whether the secular movements of rule-of-law and inalienable rights informed our culture's current moral climate. I don't think it has value in determining whether we should abolish religion, and as you point out that is entirely implausible anyway.

We *really* need to do this with beers, face-to-face conversations (and beer) make all of this easier to do.

JimII said...

If the question you pose is a rhetorical tool, hammer away with it.

If I posed the question for something other than a rhetorical tool, I think my words in support of the stewardship campaign last Sunday might have been a bit hypocritical. :)

Also, I absolutely love the image of a little Southern Baptist girl saying, "Don't you use my God that way."

Finally, I fully endorse all components of the following from Matt: "We *really* need to do this with beers, face-to-face conversations (and beer) make all of this easier to do."

Linda said...

Ahhhh, I do seem to remember reading in your dialogue with Jim a question, explicit or implied, that went something like: "But wouldn't all this progress toward the good have been just as well accomplished in secular society (via rule-of-law and inalienable rights), without the influence of religion." Is that the "more honest" or deeper conversation that spawned this one?

You must be talking about the US -- I'm not sure the concept of inalienable rights is universal. So if we're talking about the US, then I think part of this intellectual exercise would have to include another question: How much were our governing documents like the Bill of Rights influenced by the religious grounding of their authors? We might find that faith significantly informed the foundations of civic structure in America -- within which both secular and religious forces could bring about change.

All this takes me back to the question you posed in this thread -- whether secular movements informed our culture's climate. Tease away with the exploration -- but I'll give you a ready "yes"! Yes, of course! But not exclusively. We can never get a pure sample of parallel American societies, one shaped by secular movements and the other shaped by religious movements. They merge. They blend. The secular and religious shape each other and inform each other even as each flatly denies any association with the other. Yes, both are at work.

I don't know if you're one of those "non"s -- you'll have to answer that one.

Looking forward to a long conversation one day. I'll even buy the first round.

Linda said...

Cheers!

Matt Dick said...

When I said "more honest" I meant "another honest" not "more honest than this discussion".

When Jim and I first kicked this off I did some research into the origins of "all men created equal" and its origins seem to be in Anglo-saxon common law which predates the arrival of Christianity on the British Isles.

So I'm more referring to the foundation of England more than the U.S., although the States is obviously the great inheritor of this tradition today.