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

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.

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~ by spim on November 17, 2008.

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