A Brief Introduction

•November 18, 2008 • Leave a Comment

So these journal entries are posted backwards, so that you can read down.  Furthermore, you left organization up to us, so I organized it by the assigned readings and included the date we discussed them.  I hope that’s cope!

And if it’s not, well…c’est la vie.

 

–Chelsea

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Past Explanations of Violence (1-3; October 22 & 24)

•November 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Cryptoessentialism.  Spellchecker certainly doesn’t recognize that one.  =)

I’ll start of by giving a slight overview of what exactly is going on with this book.  It’s entitled Fighting Words, is by Hector Avalos, and presents a theory that explains the origins of religious violence.  Thus far, the text is rife with words such as ‘cryptoessentialism’ and ‘empirico-rationalism’, that I’m sneaking suspicious Avalos made up to suit his own definition of them.

Avalos, in his first two chapters, makes an important distinction that not all readers may pick up on—in fact, had I not been reading the book and annotating it for class, I may have missed it.  He states that religion is not inherently violent or causal of violence, but is instead prone to violence.  It’s a very careful, deliberately done difference.  I’m not certain at this point why he does this, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because it lends more credence to his theory and is less likely to put off persons in his audience that are religious.  I mean, if we think about Kimball and his understanding that religion is inherently good and that people are the factor that mucks it up, one can see how important this statement is.  Instead, for Avalos, religion is what people make of it.  Without people, religion doesn’t exist—it’s only power lies in what we are willing to give it.  (I actually very much like that viewpoint and found it to be well said.)

Slightly related, Avalos also brings up the issue that religious conflict is unverifiable—if a god/goddess tells me to go kill someone, there is no way to prove that he/she did not tell me so.  This furthermore illustrates the point that people have a profound, and indeed are the providers for it, effect on religion and its interpretation and existence.

I’m very interested in seeing how Avalos proceeds as a writer writing to his audience.  In Kimball, bias was evident—in Juergensmeyer, less so, but it could be seen if one looked for it, particularly in the concluding chapters of Terror.  On the bottom of 28, going up to 29, Avalos states, “[O]ne has to confront violence in each religion in a frank manner.  I believe I do it evenhandedly.”  I really, really, really hoped, upon reading that sentence that he said this in an attempt to be academic and wasn’t ignoring his own bias (because, even if he is unreligious, he does have bias— everyone does!).  I was reassured when we went on to admit that he is hegemonic.

I did however have a question about Avalos and his beliefs, in relation to what I just mentioned.  The sentence that raised my curiosity was this:  “They all regard their scriptures as sacred despite the violence endorsed therein.”  Sacred—what a powerful, potent word.  It is times like these when I most appreciate Brown and his “Clarifying Our Terms.”  What does the word ‘sacred’ mean to Avalos?  Does he consider anything to be sacred?  What about his life?  Or is something only sacred if it’s religiously influenced?  Or used as an influence to religion?  And if he does consider his life sacred, is it so despite the fact that it is touched by violence?  What defines that term?  I’m sure (well, reasonably) Avalos would not encourage suicide—what would be the basis of that opinion? 

Forgive me for all those question marks.

You know, there is one thing I will say for the man:  Hector Avalos tienes cajones.  Hardcore.  He sets some pretty high standards for himself and it will be interesting to see if he lives up to them.  Right off the bat, I already have one major question for the rest of the book:  if his theory actually holds weight, what implications are there for religious belief?

NOTE:  Oh.  My.  Word.  I just realized that I never actually explained what Avalos’ theory actually is—there’s apparently a very real reason that this is a journal and not a paper, because if this was a paper I would be effed.  Excuse my abbreviated French.  At any rate, back on topic.  Avalos’ basic theory consists of two parts—religious violence is caused by scarce resources.  These aforementioned scarce resources are caused by religion.

Scarce Resource Theory (4-5; October 27)

•November 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Chapter 4 is quite basically Avalos defining modern scarce resource theory in five sentences—the theory that scarce resources, real or perceived, are a major factor in violence—and then spends the remainder of the chapter critiquing it in relation to a couple of different concepts.  You and I both have read that chapter, which I found to be a sort of white noise chapter, so I’m going to move on ahead to Chapter 5 and something a bit more plumy.

Sacred space, group privileging, inscripturation, and salvation.  In these chapters, particularly Chapter 5, Avalos examines scarce resources and how they derive from religion.  The four categories I opened with are the main four examples of the major scarce resources that are generated or supported primarily by religion. 

First, inscripturation (another word I think Avalos may have made up—Spellchecker doesn’t recognize it either).  The term refers to a written account of what is considered to be “authoritative information about or from supernatural forces and/or beings”.  All major religions seem to be in possession of their own version of scripture—Jews have the Tanakh, Muslims have the Qur’an, and Christians have the Bible (a combination of the Tanakh—the Old Testament—and the New Testament).

In the section on inscripturation, on page 106, Avalos states, “But there are differences between secular privileged texts and sacred scriptures.”  This caught my attention.  He cites the Constitution as an example, explaining that we as a society determined that it was a special document—God’s approval did not factor into the issue.  I, however, wonder that maybe one could argue that god (or God—lowercase or uppercase ‘g’, I don’t care and I’m sorry that I keep switching) is just an entity.  He/she/it is the same as the people who accepted the Constitution, except for the powers that we afford him/her/it.  Don’t you have to believe in god for this to work?  It seems to hinge on Christianity or one of the other “sounding-board” religions (ah, that’s my own term, sorry).  Also, is there any point in thinking about us attributing certain books to God (i.e. God chose this scripture) instead of merely talking about the writing? 

Next comes the idea of sacred space—“a bounded space whose value is placed above that of surrounding places for purely religious reasons”.  I had little thoughts on his section on this, save for the notion that I find often times sacred spaces are attributed to be so by religious people—not necessarily for religious reasons.  For example, if you visit a memorial for a war or for some other violent occurrence, people observe a different code of conduct there than they would on the street.  It’s not necessarily because the sight is sacred for religious reasons, but people may act as if it is sacred for reasons based on their religion.

Linked closely to both inscripturation and sacred space, is the idea of group privileging, or the idea that certain groups have privileges that are not granted to those who are not inside the group.  It’s a very straight forward idea and I applaud Avalos for addressing it—in fact, I’m not sure if I approve thus far or disapprove of what he’s doing.  It almost seems like he’s taking things that all people could possibly agree on, slapping a different name on them, and then using that as the meat of his theory. 

Finally, in the end, we reach salvation (haha—get it?  Okay, I know, weak pun).  Avalos refers to salvation as the “ultimate supernatural prize”.  Salvation is the concept that one receives a better supernatural status by joining a specific group or religion.  I kind of thought this section was weak and a little flawed—he doesn’t seem to address enough (for me, at least) the fact that different religions have very different concepts of salvation.  Even with the Christianities, there are varying ideas—compare that of a Catholic with that of a Protestant.  I’m pretty sure the Protestant would tell the Catholic where to stick his notion of purgatory.  If you break outside of the Christianities, you encounter even more dramatically differing concepts of salvation—yes, they are all related to one’s supernatural (although I’m not a huge fan of that word—metaphysical, maybe?  Hmmmm) status, but the details shouldn’t be discounted.

Basically, Avalos is arguing that the bottom line is control.  Examine oral literature—who controls that?  Text is written and it becomes easier to verify that, but control is still an issue.  If someone controls it, it is a scarce resource.  Before I came to college, I had difficulty reading things and disagreeing with them.  I’d read one book on one point and would think, “Yeah, all right.  This guy has some great points.”  Then I’d proceed to read another book on the other point (for I do try so hard to be fair) and would find myself thinking, “Yeah, all right.  This guy has some great points.”  In case you didn’t notice, my observations were exactly the same for two books covering opposing points on the same issue.  I’ve had to learn to critique and academically consider things I read as I read them.  I felt like I had to write this because it was somehow related, but I’m not sure how—maybe because the people who control text encourage this? 

Which brings me to something else Avalos touches on—the illusion of freedom and thought.  We talk about it—he talks about it—with the media, news, and other established sources, but it seems like people overlook the most important related point—literature.  A published book, I think, allows for thought and consideration, but still has all the same phenomena.  I just gave an example from that—and I don’t think it’s just because I’m a bibliophile. 

In closing, I have just one quick, wary observation.  This may be me being over sensitive (and over watchful), but as I read I wondered if it bugged anyone else that he relied on Christianity.  I now find myself, as a direct result, relying heavily on it in my journal.  I mean, I understand that Avalos is a biblical scholar, but I’d have appreciated him coming out and saying, “I’m going to use Christianity as my main method of exploration” if he was going to do so.  And if he does do this—which, at this point, I won’t lay absolute claim that he does—does this create weak spots in his theory?  After all, religious violence is non-sentient; it does not care what religion you are (I declare it non-sentient as I attribute to it characteristics, ha).  I mean, I’ve flipped forward through the book and have found sections on Islam and Judaism, and those may be three major religions, but I for one think others deserved to be examined and addressed.  And if they don’t deserve to be, Avalos should have gathered the reins and done it anyway.  He would be so much more believable and creditable—again, personal opinion—if he was more comprehensive.  He uses language and stylistic writing tools to try and convince his readers of his points, but it seems at times that he forgets that he believes in his theory and should try to use that to gain approval. 

 

Judaism (6-7; November 29 & 31)

•November 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

There’s this thing that writers sometimes do where they pull a fast one on you and change the definitions of the words they use without telling you.  If they’re good, sometimes they can manipulate a sentence so a specific connotation related to a word comes out more obviously.  Without being terribly specific, I think Avalos does this sometimes.

Chapter 6 and 7 are on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible and Academic Defenses of Violence in the Hebrew Bible, respectively.  But before I go into discussing the actual subject matter of these chapters, I’d like to ask a question:  who is this book for?  Is this an in-the-know presentation of a theory—like A Theory of Justice and the subsequent works by John Rawls?  Or is it just a general academic text?  If you look at it in comparison to Kimball (who I’d say writes for American Christians) or Juergensmeyer (people who have an established interest in the topic of religious violence), it is apparent that Fighting Words and Avalos are quite different.  If I had to venture a guess, I’d compare it to TOJ.  Fighting Words, to me, seems like a text written for an academic audience and, furthermore, for people whose scholarship lies in this specific area.  I believe this for one main reason—Avalos frequently flips between the way he writes—sometimes he over explains concepts that are easy to grasp, but sometimes he just assumes that the reader will know who this person is or why this location is important.  It may be condescending to simplify things, but there is no question that an academic of this area will understand the text.  Members of a popular audience, however, will come into conflict with several aspects of it.

In Chapter 6, Avalos addresses two positions that are taken on violence in the Hebrew Bible.  The first sees violence as historically accurate and defensible by moral standards.  The second, in abrupt contrast, denies that the violence actually occurred, or attempts to minimize its importance.  Although I grant that he says “scholarship on violence in the Hebrew Bible has been marked by at least two…”, I believe that he limits what he can address by doing so.  There could most assuredly be a third position—what if people accepted the violence, but sweep it under the rug?  Skeletons in the closet and all that rot.  What about a fourth position—accurate, but not morally defensible?  What about a fifth; couldn’t complete apathy be considered a position?  What Avalos should have done here is say that there are two positions he will examine (there are a lot of places and similar instances he should do something like this, but he epically fails each time).

Just a quick note, on page 115, Avalos states, “[T]here are notable dissenters who see that the Bible has function as an instrument to legitimize violence.”  I think this is a big point for him; admittedly, he doesn’t address it for very long, or very thoroughly, but I feel like he sneaks it in and assumes that its importance will leak through in some form of a subconscious catching of literary clues.

In relation to this point, I wonder if there is any time where it is appropriate to suffer?  Rather, I wonder if Avalos would say there is.  I know I’ve mentioned this before (first journal, I think), but the entire book of Paul can be summed up in three words:  “Suffer and die.”  The Bible certainly condones suffering—does that lend credence to notion that the Bible condones violence?  The entire New Testament, after all, revolves around the eventual death of the religion’s Messiah.  In Christianity, had Jesus never suffered and died…well, there wouldn’t be Christianity, would there?  Is all suffering then equal, or is what Jesus suffered more important?  Does it carry more weight?  Would people say that suffering is caused by sin?  Does the attitude “this life doesn’t matter, focus on the next” have a direct impact on people?  In my religion, suffering is caused (or if not caused, backed by) your Higher Self and your Younger Self determining that the suffering is actually beneficial to you on a more important level; for example, were I to fall ill, I am being permitted to fall ill because I will learn something from the experience.  I’m not going to lie, it can be a very frightening and disappointing belief, but it serves me all right.  

It was in this chapter, Chapter 6, that I made my first real connection to Avalos—it was one of those “oh” moments where all the pieces come together.  It was on page 118, when he states, while speaking about the story of Moses as an example, “This story is premised on the idea that God does not reveal himself equally to all, and it definitely shows the conflict that ensues directly from this inequality.”  Oh!  Christianity is a religion of inequality—so is Judaism; for that matter, aren’t most religions?  How did I not notice this before?  I mean, I had grasped the point, but I hadn’t been able to mutate into something applicable to my own life.  I don’t know how learning is for you, but it isn’t until I mold something so that it means something to me that I really get fired up about it.  I wrote in the margin, “If you view equality as a scare resource…” before I realized exactly what Avalos is doing. 

Smart bugger.

You know, in Chapter 6 he talks about violence resorting from group privileging and violence resorting from this or from that, and it’s all well and interesting, but when he hits Chapter 7, he really gets to the nitty-gritty people-will-scream-about-their-point stuff.  On page 160, he goes into what he entitles “The ‘Greater Good’”.  This brought to mind one of my favorite bang-your-head-against-the-wall ethics scenarios (man, if I’m not apologizing for question marks, I’m apologizing for something else—in this case, hyphenated adjectives that aren’t adjectives at all).  You are a visitor to a village that is not technologically advanced—it is in a Third World country and you are there doing research, or some other scholarly pursuit.  Well, I suppose you could be there for fun, but at any rate, you are there.  Because you’re a guest, the local government officials are driving you around showing off the area; while out and about, you happen upon the site of what will become an execution.  Ten rebel young men have been rounded up and are about to be killed by firing squad.  The commander, however, offers you his gun and informs you that because you are such an honored guest, you may have the privilege of shooting one of the infidels.  If you accept and shoot one, the rest go free.  If you deny the opportunity, he and his men will shoot all of them.

What do you do?

You have the opportunity to save nine men—but you will have personally killed another man.  Or you have the opportunity to keep your hands clean and watch ten men be killed—nine of whom may have survived, had you had the guts to step up to the plate (okay, yes, I side with the rebels, usually, and I also usually condone shooting the one). 

This situation is merely one in which it is easy to see the effects of collateral damage relating from ethical or unethical behavior.  Think about Bonhoeffer—he, in an effort to quench what he considered to be the ultimate evil, compromised his morals to attempt to ensure Hitler’s death.  His morals are the collateral damage in that situation.  Think back to Juergensmeyer—one has to justify an act of religious violence.

Is it okay, then, to have collateral damage if you have a plan?  Lenin, I think, or somebody, said something along the lines of (and excuse me, I’m paraphrasing), “It wouldn’t matter it three-fourths of the population were killed, if the remaining fourth were Communists.”  Think about that in terms of religious violence—insert into a Revelations context.  The people foretold to die in the final book of the accepted Christian Bible is high.  And intense. 

[!WARNING!:  The following two paragraphs are highly tangential (insert snort from Chuck who thinks that my entire journal and all my class participation is always that way) and you don’t have to read them if you don’t want to.]

It’s interesting to think of violence as the greater good, when all semester we’ve been seeing it as bad—religion has shifted between inherently good and bad, but for the most part the violence has always been considered negative.  And while I’m not saying I disagree—I’m a terrible softie and really don’t like violence in any form—it is interesting.  This is kind of a side note—okay, it is a side note—but I’d like to know why the bombing of German cities that we did in World War II is not more well known.  Is it not in the history books because the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have to be because of their magnitude?  Did they think that the U.S. o’ A already looked bad enough?  I’ve learned so much about America and what we as a nation have done since coming to college.  We create means to ends.  In my opinion, that’s not enough!  Every person is an end unto themselves—yeah, okay, sure.  We use people—all of us do.  But the consideration of thinking of them as people—as an end—is important. 

One death is a tragedy.  A million deaths is a statistic.  Sad words, but so true.  When’s the last time you saw a foreign massacre or event that resulted in a high death toll on the front page of the paper?  I’ll mark this as tangential.  Sorry!

Christianity (8-9; November 3 & 5)

•November 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I mentioned in the previous journal how I had a sort of revelation in relation (say that five times fast) to Avalos and his scarce resources—this reading has only served to enforce that.

Basically, these two chapters are the Christian equivalent of the past two chapters—they examine Christianity and its academic defenses of violence.  The first thing I took note of was the scholarship Avalos is exhibiting—I’m not entirely sure that it’s very good.  We joked in class about sending all of our notes to Avalos and having him write Fighting Words:  Everything I Left Out the First Time.  Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.  Man, that’s arrogant.  =)

On page 186, Avalos cites 2 Timothy 3:16 and the reader is left over thinking that Paul wrote 2 Timothy—when in fact few scholars believe that it was.  In fact, many believe it was written in the late first century or early second century—of course, this means that it must refer to the Hebrew Bible, which, unfortunately, doesn’t jive with our dear Hector.  Is Avalos guilty of selective reading to enforce his points?  Were Kimball to discuss this book with the author, would he not-so-discreetly cough, “Selective cough reading cough”?  He’s trying to show how people came to believe that the New Testament was God-inspired; he claims that others misinterpret their sacred texts, but it’s a two way street—what does he want to do to determine who’s right?  Flip a coin?

I know I mentioned—maybe  even in my first journal for this book—that I had the feeling Avalos made an observation, slapped a name on it, refined it a bit, and presented it as a theory.  The words on the bottom of 180 didn’t alleviate my concerns—“The episode also shows that Jesus thinks the temple was a scarce resource, not available to all or for every type of activity.”  Now, is it just me twisting words/meanings, or is that sentence able to be interpreted as to mean anything that is not immediately available to all people for any form of activity is a scarce resource?  Well, yeah!  I mean, hello?  Of course, if you’re that broad Avalos’ theory is sound.  That’s like saying that the people who discovered America were from the Earth.  Is this his entire point?  I had thought he was narrower than that, but I’ve certainly been wrong before and I’ll certainly be wrong again.  But could Avalos be saying everything is a scarce resource?  Is this a case where the viewpoint is everything to determination?

One other very prominent aspect of these chapters that I noticed, was that Avalos using only ancient examples of Christian history to demonstrate his points—he uses the Crusades, for example, instead of a more modern example of Christian violence.  While they may be able to think of immediately, there are plenty that range in scale.  Some people believe that as society has progressed and technology has developed, people have become more docile—bollocks.  Well, maybe not total bollocks, but at least partially.  Ancient times weren’t always violent, no more than modern times are.  He should have extrapolated.  And, you know, if he’s trying to give examples of a time when the church was more unified than it is now, he needs to realize (oh, man I do sound arrogant) that there have always been Christianities, because there have always been people who feel strongly about one thing over another or who are unwilling to give up some sinful facet of their life. 

Also, Avalos should keep his reader in mind—he’s absolute rubbish at that.  Contemporary times, contemporary minds and all that lovely stuff.  As hell-bent as he is on convincing us that his theory is applicable, one would take into account that we might be persuaded a little more by something we could relate to. 

Do you remember the horror that people felt when we read about Enuma Elish?  How the world was beget in the dead body of a woman and that if the world had started so violently, what was the relation to religion being inherently violent?  Christianity was beget of violence, too.  Somehow, people seem to forget that they walk around with dead man hung on torture devices around their neck.  If Jesus had lived in modern times and died by lethal inject, would his followers wear his dead body with a needle?  Christianity began with the killing of Jesus and the dual fact that that was when Jesus died for everyone’s sins.

As a point of interest, on page 202, Aquinas is compelling to Jews to become Christians—if they hear the Word (uppercase ‘w’), they should follow it.  Although we like to think we’re passed such things, we can see an extremely parallel example in the case of Ann Coulter advising the people on public radio that we should being invading Muslim lands to convert them to Christianity.  I was recently to dinner with my grandparents, and my grandmother began talking about how great Ann Coulter is.

We are so not passed such things.

Its chapters like these that make me wonder why we can’t all just get along.  Oh, that’s right.  Because just within this chapter’s topic, everyone thinks everyone else who is different from them is going to hell.  Which brings me to…[insert drum roll]

Missionary work!

I admit that’s what I thought of with Aquinas.  Does “love thy neighbor” take on new meaning?  Salvation becomes a scarce resource—although anyone can be saved, certain conditions must exist for them to be so.  There’s an old joke I’m sure you’ve heard, but I’m going to type it out anyway:

A nondenominational Christian man dies and goes to heaven.  St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates, welcomes him in and begins showing him around. It’s beautiful, but one thing puzzles the man—there are walls everywhere, blocking off certain sections.  Confused, he asks St. Peter, “Hey, why are all these walls up here?”

St. Peter chuckles and points to the left side of the road, “Well, over there are the Protestants, up there the Baptists.”  He hesitates for a moment and then leans in, “Just wait until you see the Catholics.”

The man is still perplexed.  “But why do you have them all divided up?”

St. Peter looks surprised that he didn’t automatically realize the answer.  “Because they all think they’re the only ones up here!”

Salvation is so a scarce resource, though I did initially have some reservations upon placing it in that category.  I remember the missionaries visiting our church and all the things they talked about—I thought they were just the bees’ knees.  Now, however, I find missionary work to be tasteless, rude, and intrusive. 

I have one major question before I close:  doesn’t it make people nervous to worship fear?  I questioned that before I even knew what questioning the faith meant.  Fear can be a great motivator—the best teachers are often either feared or adored, but I’m not so comfortable with the idea that fear is a basis for a religion.  Oh, not for all people, but for some I’m sure it’s a primary motivator—I believe because I don’t want to go to hell.  Even after I left the church, I always had my fingers crossed that I was right, because if not I was especially effed.  Group privileging leads from that as well—stick with us, and you’re good; if not, you’re out.

You know, Avalos’ main four things—inscripturation, group privileging, sacred space, and salvation—remind me of Kimball, kind of.  All of these things can be taken as being central to religious violence and one could easily compare them to Kimball’s warning signs, which, by the way, I think you could stretch to be signs of an abusive relationship. 

Islam (10-11; November 7 & 10)

•November 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I’ll be honest, Chuck.  I had more trouble with these chapters than the other ones.  This was mostly due to the fact that I have no real person connection to Islam and can’t connect it to my life.  Oh, fyi Journal, the chapters are on Islam and the Qur’an. 

I did note one thing especially as I read through these chapters—Avalos has lost his audience yet again.  He doesn’t know who he’s writing to at all; he doesn’t even know where he’s writing from.  I thought it interesting that in this section Avalos used modern examples and words like “terrorist” to get his point across.  Now, I’m not ascribing any negative tendencies to Avalos (yet), but I kind of wondered if maybe he flipped his hat from ‘biblical scholar’ to ‘American’.  I can understand that it would be especially easy, but it is something he needs to watch out for. 

The section “Osama bin Laden and Sacred Space”, in particular, can touch an easily triggered nerve.  Avalos exsplains the reasons listed in bin Laden’s fatwa for war against the United States.  Although there are admittedly certainly components of the opposition of the U.S. that are political, bin Laden and his followers perceive the political effects to be an extension of religion. 

But, returning to my point, here’s an example of the impression I got from Avalos and his attitude toward Islam—the crazy lady who asked McCain the question about Obama being a Muslim and making her nervous—on national television, no less—and McCain answering, “No, ma’am.  He’s not a Muslim he’s a good family man.”

What?

Since when did being a Muslim amount to not being a good family man?  Now, this woman may have been simply ignorant—or maybe McCain was ignorant, but either way, it’s absurd.

Now Avalos isn’t really that bad—this is the overly touchy thing again, I’m thinking.  He does, in fact, bring out the good parts first and makes a strong, objective argument for sacred resources in terms of text.  On the bottom of 246, he states (and this is a loooong quote, but I appreciate the way he states his point),

Textuality and orality can be seen as rhetorical and hermeneutic strategies for maintaining or   changing power relations.  Those who wish to maintain power based on a specific textual form or interpretation will usually insist of fixity.  Those not satisfied with the current allocations of power may insist on flexibility and oral sources of authority that are beyond the text.  Yet both strategies are premised on the power of a text to enforce fixity, for one does not argue against fixity unless it is believed to have force.”

 

Secularism and Violence (12-14; November 12)

•November 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I know that I am commenting on one of the last things in this section first, but it’s one of the things that stuck out most to me.  In his summary of the chapter “The Nation-State and Secular Humanist Violence”, Avalos says, “[T]he more secularized democracies such as the United States, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden see much less religious violence than is found in the Middle East and other secularized regions.”

What?  (Feel free to insert an intense tone of incredulity into that syllable.)  He rattles that statement off and then just keeps trucking on to the next point, like there’s no issue anywhere in what he said.  First of all, how in the world did he make that determination of countries?  What about the Germany?  Or Spain or France?  Is it countries that have no declared national religion?  Even if it is, I don’t think the U.S. fits in that list with Iceland, Norway, and Sweden–I feel like he’s doing that test in elementary school where you get a group of four things and are asked which of them is not like the other.  I get lossed with the U.S.  There’s a Christian basis for a lot of the United States–the Pledge of Allegiance (and no, Sarah Palin, the founding fathers have nothing to do with it–a little man named Francis Bellamy does.  And furthermore, the “one nation under God” bit wasn’t added until the 1950s to flush out commies–because spies can’t lie, you know.  Oh, man.  Sorry–tangential again!) and the Ten Commandments exhibited at court houses ensure that.  Okay, so the U.S. official stance is that we have no religion.  But, in this scenario, I think we have to weigh official versus real. 

Leaving aside how he makes that determination, is it true?  Do secularized democracies see less religious violence?  I can maybe see that the religious implications of violence are more overt in other countries–which could possibly lead to this–but I maintain that its simply to broad.  I must admit, upon reading this, of relating it to Juergensmeyer and the combination of nationalism and religion. 

All right, now that I began with the end (if I’m not careful my language is going to go Lewis Carroll), I’ll move on to the beginning.  Page 305–it’s talking about religion being a primary factor in the Nazi movement and the author Steven Katz is cited as saying, “‘The Holocaust is phenomologically unique by virtue of the fact that never before has a state set out, as a matter of intentional principle and actualized policy, to annihilate physically every man, woman, and child belonging to a specific people.”  What about the Romans and the early Christians?  What about the Christians during the Dark Ages?  What about the United States government and the Native Americans?  What about the former Yugoslavia?

And all that’s only before the Holocaust!  And there’s more.  Then and now–now we have Rwanda and Darfur and other attempts at genocide.  It comes back to Kimball–when you have a religious tradition, any response to that is an enemy; it’s an either/or mindset.  You can apply this to Avalos himself.  Opposition to his theory is the enemy.

Speaking of Kimball and that phenomenon, I came across an interesting example of that very thing and martyrs/demons.  There’s a paragraph on that same page that talks about certain researchers who believe that pagan religions were behind the movement.  Now, I’m going to go ahead and acknowledge that I have a complete and utter bias against Nazis and Nazi Germany.  I do.  I read, I would be tempted to say mistakenly if I didn’t so love it and books in general, Hitler’s Willing Executioners.  And I am so hardcore biased.  Screw nationalism and culture.  They were wrong

Now, this is just my bias speaking.

I have to all this I swear–my response to reading that paragraph was to scribble in the margin, “Nice try.”  Nice try?  Like they were attempting to pin it on pagan people and had failed.  Juergensmeyer is so write about the martyr/demon issue.  Just because I’m pagan, I instantly believed the whole argument was poppycock.  It’s either a reverse effect or a side effect of satanization and the invention of enemies, I haven’t decided yet. 

It was interesting to think of the church as a vehicle for Nazism.  Sometimes, I’m shocked by exactly how little my brain comprehends of the massive numbers of people who died.  There are those rare flashes of understanding that only last for a few moments, wherein you feel as though you’ve grasped it and are at the brink of comprehension.  More often that not, they blink away just as rapidly as they had occurred, but you’re left knowing that you thought something and it was something big.  I had one of those when I was reading this.  Anti-semitism was so widespread.  Just recently, a man named Dr. Lyon, a survivor of Kristallnacht, came and spoke at UND.  He talked about his families move to America and how, upon settling in Minneapolis, he and his family encountered even more anti-semitic attitudes.  There was even restrictive housing for Jews.  That wasn’t so very long ago.  Less than a faerie sigh, as they’d say. 

Thinking about that led me to think about sundown towns, which still exist here and there.  And prejudice because of the color of one’s skin isn’t so drastic as prejudice for one’s religion.  The idea that this exists, just nuts me out.  Whoa, man.