Ethics and Solutions (15-16; November 14)

•November 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I don’t like the Santa Claus thing.  It raised my hackles right up.

I am, of course, talking about the fact that Avalos argues that furthering the belief in Santa Claus is unethical because we are asking a child to give us a tangible service (behaving) in return for a nonexistent reward (Santa Claus’ existence and his benefits).  Firstly, and yes, I know, Chuck, and I’m terribly sorry to nitpick yet again at something that’s not terribly important, but I just have to get this out (this is already a terrible sentence), Santa Claus encourages the imagination.  Second of all, it eases children into behaving well.  It’s a device.  Thirdly, I certainly reaped benefits from Santa Claus–even during the bad years when i was younger.  There was definitely an existent reward.

Okay, moving on to something that’s actually relevant to the chapter–the immorality of religious violence.  I’m not convinced that nonreligious violence is less immoral than religious violence.  Yes, you need food to live, but people believe that a life without their spirituality isn’t a life at all.  How is one to make the determination of truth?  And isn’t morality personal?  I certainly had always considered it to be so.  I went ahead and looked it up and it said “of or relating to principles of right and wrong behavior.”  Oh, thanks Oxford.  Like that helps us.

I seriously doubt that by Jiminy Cricket and your Jiminy Cricket have the exact same personality–indeed, our morality is cultivated through our lifestyle much like our personality.  I don’t believe the idea that nonreligious violence is more moral; sorry, Avalos.

Avalos presents two obvious logical choices for solving religious violence, if religious violence is always immoral.  First, that we retain religion, but modify it so that scarcities are not created and second, that we remove religion from human life.  He goes on right after outlining these to state, “Each of these choices has advantages and disadvantages.” 

It was hear that I got a glimpse of the dictator in Avalos.  Okay, that’s unfair and not completely true–but it is a little bit.  Both of those suggestions interfere prominently with the notion of freedom of religion–which is in our Constitution and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In fact, it’s Article 18:  “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”

We can’t enact either of his so-called solutions.  And even if we could, would we really want to?  Think of the ramifications, man!  Would we want to lose the side benefits that come with religion?  Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.  He used his faith as his primary motivation for his activism in the civil rights movement–whose to say what the movement would have looked like had he not had that faith.

I’m an AI member and I’m also not a fan of the death penalty.  And I liken the argument I use against that, for the argument I use against Avalos–yeah, some person may deserve to die, but who deserves to make that determination?  Who are we–who is Avalos–to declare religion should be eradicated?

In these chapters, he also talks about unverifiable information.  I must admit, I lit up a little there in…well, passionate interest, maybe?  Isn’t faith an extension of unverifiable information?  And what does one do when presented with so-called “verifiable” information?  What about people speaking in tongues, or miracles as answers to prayer, or text?  I never know what to say when one of my overly zealous Christian friends talk about people speaking tongues–that’s a hard one for me to answer.  It seems awfully rude to come out and say, “Bullshit.  Faker.”  But, back to the matter at hand, I suppose you could say that those things can’t be verified for everyone. 

You could compare the faith people show in those things to the faith people hold in anything and everything–think of cult theorists.  There are people who believe in UFOs (well, of course people believe in UFOs, but I mean the alien variety) and Roswell and the Joshua Tree and crop circles. 

Faith is faith.

11. The Mind of God

•October 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Disclaimer: This is a journal for my class on Religious Violence. It is generally written as if it is addressing my teacher, Chuck, and is written in relation to the book Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer.

So there are five ways Juergensmeyer says we can eliminate religious violence. I’m going to be spending the majority of my time on those, and the majority of that time on a specific argument.

The five ways are as follows: destroying violence. In this situation, the solution is made with force. Terrorists are killed off or forcibly controlled. Next, there’s terrifying terrorists. The threat of violent reprisals or imprisonment so frightens religious activists that they hesitate to act. The strength of this proposal is not in the threat upone one’s self, but in the threat upon one’s family. YOU may be willing to die for the cause, but are you willing to sacrifice everyone you know? Thirdly, violence can win. Violence is used as leverage in poltiical negotiation and the causes are met. Fourth, you can separate religion from politics. The absolutism of the struggle is defused; religious aspects are removed from the political arena. And lastly, you can heal politics with religion. Opponents in a conflict summon a minimal level of mutual trust and respect.

Okay, so now we have those five notions. What do we do with them? Are they even valid solutions?

I propose that first we must have one more piece of information–these are meant to be solutions to religious violence. In what scope is Juergensmeyer referring to religious violence? Is he referring to religious violence as a whole in all of society, or is he referring to specific acts of religious violence? I am more skeptical about it being religious violence in all of society, so we’re going to ignore that and isntead examine this problem within the parameters of dealing with individual movements of religious violence.

Now, if that is the case, do these solutions work? Can they actually resolve anything? First, let me say that I don’t believe number four is valid; in a world where everything is able to hold a political connotation and even separation of church and state doesn’t really separate church and state, I don’t believe it’s possible to ever untangle those threads. However, that still leaves us with ideas one, two, three, and five. Here is what I think: three is the only one the could be interpreted as being an actual solution. Oh, I don’t doubt that one, two, and five are USED–quite often, I’m sure. Nevertheless, they are not true solutions. Each of them ends with the party who instigated religious violence feeling resentment (injustice if we wan to go down Brown’s route) and planning for their next attack or their next uprising.

Solution three is generally the one that we consider to be the least valid–violence winning? People don’t like to think there’s no happy ending. However, in number three, when violence wins, the cause is satisfied. Granted, this may lead to a NEW party bringing forth religious violence, but the original position (ha ha, Rawls–okay, sorry) has been resolved.

10. Warriors’ Power

•October 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Disclaimer: This is a journal for my class on Religious Violence. It is generally written as if it is addressing my teacher, Chuck, and is written in relation to the book Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer.

The warriors’ power. This journal, too, may be a little disorganized. It’s just that I’ve got so much to say that I don’t know where to begin, so I end up just listing them for you.

First off, in this chapter Juergensmeyer says that practicing rituals allows for peace. Personally, this made me think of art therapy or hitting a punching bag. The specific phrase, “[T]he ritualized acting out of violent acts plays a role in displacing feelings of aggression.” Well, excuse me if I’m being obtuse, but wouldn’t anything that changes your focus dissipate violence? It’s the same reason why in an awkward silence between two people, a third person saying something dissipates the tension. The focus has been changed. Doesn’t the same hold true for violence?

Also, in relation to this, what ritual are we talking about? It never really says, so I’m assuming all religious rituals. Christian faiths take communion–is this one of those rituals that helps stay violence? I mean, if you think about it, it is pretty gross what the church is implying. The blood and body of Christ. Ah, no thank you. However, if I find myself in The Silence of the Lambs, I’ll be sure to point any cannibals I meet in your direction. I’m sorry, I know that was flippant, but isn’t it true? Communion is a ritualized version of cannibalism.

This section also talks about “marginal men”–young men who live life on the margins, who are looking for something to guide them. I suppose I can kind of see the appeal. I mean, if you’re lonely and you feel like you’re making no impact on the world, I suppose you would be looking for a way out of that situation. By becoming a suicide bomber, you make an impact on society, you are employed, you will leave a legacy, your family will be taken care of, and you’ll have a fabulous afterlife with virgins! In somewhat relation to this, I found the gender roles that he ascribed interesting. It’s a tangential side note, but many cultures have much broader definitions of gender than the U.S.–it’s interesting to look at some that do not.

Somewhat awkwardly, Juergensmeyer also talks about sex as being motivation. I felt like he was channeling Freud the entire time. You know the joke–a guy walks up to his buddy and says, “I had a dream last night.” The friend doesn’t even look up from what he’s doing, but just says, “It means you want to have sex with your mother.” Without being crude or oversharing, I think sex is fine and dandy, but I don’t think it has the hidden impact that so many think it does. I mean, yeah, it’s great. But the motives that are sometimes sexually ascribed…well, I just don’t get it. Maybe that’s my ignorance rearing it’s ugly head.

9. Martyrs and Demons

•October 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Disclaimer: This is a journal for my class on Religious Violence. It is generally written as if it is addressing my teacher, Chuck, and is written in relation to the book Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer.

Martyrs and demons.

Hmmmmmm. I feel clever. I’ve said a few times that we demonize our enemies. It’s a shame that I don’t think I pointed out that we glorify our own fallen–then I would have really been clever.

There are a few separate things I want to say, so bear with me–this journal is going to be slightly disorganized.

First off, is the issue of martyrdom. While I find it hard to think that anyone WANTS to be a martyr, I realize that it IS true. BUT, if someone wants to become a martyr, how do they do so appropriately? These young men who strap on bombs and walk into grocery stores to blow the place up, are they martyrs? What about the people who flew the planes into the twin towers on 9/11? Are THEY martyrs? People of their religion/cause seem to think so. It’s funny, though, because I always thought martyrdom was being KILLED for your religion, not dying for it. These people made the choice to, in essence, kill themselves for their religion. Had they not made that decision, it is unlikely anyone would have murdered them for their faith. Doesn’t that kind of nullify any claims to martyrdom they might have?

Another issue I thought of (let’s call it the Batman issue), starts with the idea of us versus them. Good versus evil (totally dependent on perspective because without perspective there is no such thing). Isn’t there occasionally times people WANT to be the bad guy? Or does that only happen in comic books and adventures in Gotham City? Can it be effective to be the bad guy? Machiavelli appreciated being the bad guy–or at least the kind-of-bad guy. Do modern people ever appreciate it? And can you sometimes accomplish more by doing so? I’m thinking of the dad making his daughter brush her teeth when she doesn’t want to. Can that be enhanced to an international level?

Next, I’m American. That IS our nationality. In elementary school when you do those genealogy projects, the teacher sends home a sheet for your parents to fill out about your ethnicity and where you come from. My mom wrote “American” on the page and sent it back with me. The teacher, far from appreciating the truth, made me do it over. I ended up sneaking the sheet to my dad one night after dinner and he filled it out. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the simple truth my mom demonstrated that day. I am American. Perhaps it comes from having international friends or going abroad, but I’m not Irish. I’m not Polish or English or Roma or anything. I am an American. I said that it was our nationality, but sometimes I think it can also come off as our political affinity–which I really don’t want it to. Sometimes I feel a little sorry when I say that–which is horrible, I know, but true nonetheless.

I’m going to close with an issue that’s been on the verge of my mind since the beginning of this class. Watching the interplay between Jennifer-and-Anna and Michelle, especially, I can’t help but wonder who understands more. Faith v. no faith. Compassion v. dismissal? Understanding v. confusion?

8. Cosmic War

•October 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Disclaimer: This is a journal for my class on Religious Violence. It is generally written as if it is addressing my teacher, Chuck, and is written in relation to the book Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer.

Bottom of page 148, last paragraph: “I call such images “cosmic” because they are larger than life.”

Allow me to disabuse you of any notion that I agree with the idea of cosmic war. No, that’s still incorrect. Allow me to disabuse of the notion that I believe there IS such a thing as cosmic war.

Much better.

This whole chapter was extremely frustrating to me. I do agree with some of what Juergensmeyer says–mainly that conflict can be intimately personal, but that it can also be translated to a social plane. The rest of it…well, not so much. The most important paragraph in this chapter is the one I cited from, which extends to the top of page 150. In that chapter, he explains everything that he is saying; the rest is simply ways to back it up. It is, therefore, this paragraph that I am going to examine.

The sentence following the one cited at the top of this page talks about metaphysical conflicts between good and evil. I don’t think I’ve ever really come out and said it, but I don’t believe in good or in evil. I believe that people do good and people do bad (evil), but there is no concentrated vanilla of either of those substances–because they’re not substances. They’re also not entities. They are what we make of them.

“Ultimately, though, they transcend human experience.” Is that possible? I suppose if you believe in a higher power or a higher SOMETHING, it is. If you don’t, are you screwed? I suppose I do agree with Juergensmeyer when he says that the struggle of religious violence is so dramatic because the perpetrators hold notions of cosmic war, but I don’t think that makes cosmic war true, valid, or present.

After you admit that the people enacting violence believe that they are doing something cosmic, something that “transcends human experience”, things can get a little sticky. Does the notion that one does it for a better afterlife justify the action? If you refrain from violence out of a religious obligation or respect for humanity, but violence would improve the world, what then? It is enough to admit that people hold cosmic reasons for violence–to admit cosmic war is to encounter those two questions–which are really only the first two monkeys in the barrel–and more. How do you answer them?

Can you answer them?

7. Theater of Terror

•October 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Disclaimer: This is a journal for my class on Religious Violence. It is generally written as if it is addressing my teacher, Chuck, and is written in relation to the book Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer.

I have to admit, when Juergensmeyer opened the second half of his book with the question, “Do these stories of piety and mayhem have anything in common?”, my response may have been along the lines of, “[Insert snort] Ah, religion and violence?”

Basically, to me, this served as an introduction of sorts. The most important thing I think that he says in the opening chapter is, when he’s listing a bunch of acts of religious violence, “[A]ll of these are not just incidents of violence. They are acts of deliberately exaggerated violence.”


Recently, I had the opportunity to meet James Loewen, who is the author of the book Lies My Teacher Told Me (also Lies Across America and Sundown Towns, which are both fascinating, but for now the first is the most pertinent). The book, whether you agree with it or not and despite any feelings you may have James Loewen himself, has a valid point and that is that history is told by the winners. In an effort to discourage any future displays of such violence, religiously violent acts are exaggerated OR in order to prove a point more forcefully, an act of religious violence is done carefully to ensure that it is horrendous and that it sticks with people. It’s like the basis for fairy tales–the bigger and badder (forgive me that word, please) the story, the more likely the moral will sink in thick enough that the kid will get it.

How then, do we deal with such theatrical forms of violence (speaking of, I feel like I should do a religious background search on the Joker)? Juergensmeyer uses a stage metaphor, but I think it might be more appropriate to use a fiction metaphor. We must consider the scene–the location of the violence. Scene is incredibly important. Why that location? What is there to make it important? Who is there to make it important? Then we must consider the characters–who are they? What are their motives? Do they have any stakes invested? From there on, you continue. What is the plot–what is the reasoning? When is the climax? When does the violence come to a head? Is there a resolution?

6. Armageddon in a Tokyo Subway

•October 23, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Disclaimer: This is a journal for my class on Religious Violence. It is generally written as if it is addressing my teacher, Chuck, and is written in relation to the book Terror in the Mind of God by Mark Juergensmeyer.

Juergensmeyer starts off the chapter “Armageddon in a Tokyo Subway”, by saying that perhaps the place one feels least likely to find religious violence, is in Buddhism.

He really hit the nail on the head with that one.

When I think of Buddhism, I think of enlightenment (haha, it’s also the translation and for some reason right now that seems hysterical). I think of meditation. I think of Yaz. I already you this, but one of the people who has had the most influence over my life (one of my four father figures) is Buddhist and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about his beliefs. So, yes, when I think of Buddhism I don’t think of violence.

But nothing is ever completely black or white. This chapter illustrates this supremely well.

The gas bombing that occurred in the Tokyo subway on the morning of March 20, 1995 was done to illustrate the truth of a leader’s prophecies about an imminent apocalyptic war. Five scientists boarded the train and released vials of poisonous sarin gas, killing quite a few of the commuters who were aboard and injuring thousands more.

The important part of that sentence, in my mind at least, is not the type of gas nor even the number of people they killed. It is WHO did this–scientists. Five male, young scientists. This all goes back to the thought (which I think I mentioned in the journal on Islam’s neglected duty) that our enemies are stupid–when they’re not. Having thought about it more, I think it’s a form of comfort; if we consider our opponents to be unintelligent then we don’t have worry that they may be correct in what they are doing–we can simply write it off as the actions of madmen.

Which is what we do. Foolishly.

You know, Buddhists put up with a lot of prejudice–more so, maybe, than any other religion save for that of Witchcraft (pop culture has pretty much decimated that). The standard person doesn’t know enough about Sikhism or Islam or Hinduism to properly mock it. Jewish people are too close to Christianity (which is taboo, for some reason–and if you don’t think so, wait just a second or five), but Buddhism–oh, people know what (where it should be “who”) the Buddha is. Because somehow, during the course of history, it has become something that people are constantly mocking–whether they do it consciously or not. It’s a moot point, anyhow. Buddha fountains where the water shoots out the belly button, Buddha planters, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha everywhere (there’s a song called “Ms. New Booty” that I’m ashamed to admit I just sang that to). Whether it’s some attempt to make us seem cultural and enlightened, I’m not sure–all I know is that if you replaced Buddhist symbols with Christian ones, there would be a riot. The perhaps most appropriate example (and I own one of these somewhere–twenty-five cents at a garage sale) is that of the T-shirt which is inscribed with a Buddha, with words around the image that say, “Rub my belly for good luck.” Really? REALLY?

How rude is that to everyone of the Buddhist faith? If we took a T-shit and put Jesus on it and wrote “Kiss my feet for salvation” (I was trying to find something relatively parallel), there would be absolute outrage. I’m positive someone would try to sue us for SOMETHING. Because you just don’t do that to Christian symbols. It’s blasphemous.

Wait. How is it appropriate for us to do the same thing to people of different faiths?

It’s not. End of story.