tag : bright yellow-green apples: fan

"I see little point in persisting in a discussion with one so obstinate as you" Martin White

Monday, July 25, 2005


figure 56.9. keep the faith

After the discussion following my last entry, and some interesting reflections elsewhere, I thought a bit more about how religion might react to the apparently ‘ideological’ violence we’ve seen recently.

There are some people who seem to actually conflate all religion with destructiveness. Such as the otherwise quite sane Polly Toynbe, who seems to see most religion as complicit in some kinda 'death cult'. Now I’m actually quite repulsed by the ‘ideal’ religion she describes, which seems to be essentially neutered and unchallenging. Something become a private cult, that has no relevance outside one’s front room or skull. Having said this, I hope I don't sound unnecessarily defensive by trying to de-couple enthusiasm for bringing and finding the holy in our communities from the violence she noted with almost relish. The need to urgently live our religion in the public sphere shouldn’t tip over into fanaticism of any sort. I’ve actually heard people say that Jesus was a fundamentalist, and that if it weren’t for fundamentalists down the ages we wouldn’t have the ‘essence’ of religions intact here today. But this misses the point somewhat, I think, about how that essential belief relates to the world it’s lived in. Fundamentalism is a whole different measure of belief from someone who has a defining vision of the world, such as the saints and inspired rebels.

The kind of mindset, that the wielders of any violence seem to hold, is very single-minded. It seems to place ideology above everything else, anything that might impinge on the closed unit of a worldview. It's so entered into a self-contained world that nothing - the care of people, the shifting events of reality - can make them think or do otherwise. That utter denial of the value of anything but what's in their head - their virtual world - is something we should flee from. We should renounce it with conviction, repent of any artifice we might be tempted to look through, if we really want to be humanely religious.

I admire those who give their lives, who sacrifice their whole selves for others, who dedicate their lives with courage to a cause of good. And perhaps we might hope to be able to show such courage and inspiration, in some small way, in our daily lives. But we must do so because of our grounding in this world - our connections and cares about everything around us. It cannot bear any resemblance to the nihilistic act of extinction that religious violence enacts, which is a finial denial of all we’re called to care for. And what's more; such actions simply perpetuate the status quo they claim to be a cry against. The status quo of suffering and dysfunctional relationships, with recrimination coming full circle into enacting the very thing it's supposedly caused by.

The great religious figures we look up to did their best to paint another picture - of a life well lived, with every other life their concern.


Anonymous RobertB said...

Indeed. I think it was your Karen Armstrong who said, in the wake of 9/11, that the antidote to bad religion was better religion, not secularism. It is almost a cliche by now to credit secular modernity itself as the mother of `fundamentalism'. (This is doubtless a vast oversimplification. At the least `fundamentalism' is not a virgin birth and has a religious parent too; and it remains possible they are simply two symptoms of a common cause.)

I don't know how far I can generalise about the mindset of the wielders of violence. While I found Peregrine Worsthorne's [url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/letters/story/0,,1526317,00.html]comparison[/url] of Al Qaeda-style radicals to better-dead-than-red Mutually-Assured-Destruction-ers of his generation more amusing than anything else, there is a grain of truth in it.

One of the difficulties is that `violence' is not necessarily a straightforward category: we need to learn to identify acts as violent (and similarly nonviolence is not simply a privation of violence, but one of a number of positive modes of action).

11:17 AM  
Blogger postliberal said...

The link is here, for those who're looking for an easy route.

Thanks for the balanced comments there. I might just add that I realise talking in general terms about violence might slip into the relm of irrelevent abstract. I was perhaps trying to bring a point about how violence can mean many things. And therefore the need to reflect on how not to commit violence against others, in whatever way is there for us all - not just those who've contemplated a bombing.

12:29 AM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Oh yeahs, and posative loving ways of living are perhaps even more important - given the role of mutualneglect in fostering the mistrust and dysfunctional relationships that seem to ferment violence in people.

12:30 AM  
Blogger hatchris said...

I think I'm quite confused. But I think you have hit some kind of nail type thing somewhere vaguely near the head.
I sincerely hope people don't end up blaming all religion in general, and indeed, I have seen evidence that my fears won't be realised. Which is nice.
We need to do several things the bible suggests, which would be:

All that goodness, gentleness, self control, respect, kindness, kind of stuff.

All that stuff about thinking on the pure, right and lovely things.

And perhaps, loving our enemies? Doing good to those that persecute us? Repaying no evil with evil? Do good to all men?

Smart guy, that Jesus :-)

6:05 PM  
Blogger postliberal said...

Sorry - I'm trying to work on making more sense, but it's quite hard!

Funnily enough, that advice is very good. But we'll need all the best in trying to enact it! Hari Kunzru goes even further - in a wee story called Deus Ex Machina, we find a guardian angel saying, on the matter of organised religion:

"Sincerity is important. We appreciate that...

...but for heaven's sake, just try to be nice. You wouldn't think that was a lot to ask."

1:09 AM  

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