Spritzophrenia

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Posts Tagged ‘911’

Religion and War. Or, “What Makes Me Happy”

Posted by spritzophrenia on August 23, 2011

Which is the most violent religion in the world?”, I asked my class recently. No doubt you have your opinions, but these people say that the religion now responsible for most wars is in fact Nationalism. That’s right, they argue that government-sponsored promotion of our “nation” is actually a religion that commits blood sacrifice by sending our young men and women to war. Sound crazy? Gaddaffi’s Libya is currently being taken over— by nationalist causes?— with the support of NATO powers. We’re near the 10th anniversary of 9/11, closely followed by the anniversary of ten years of US-sponsored war. Maybe we should consider what they say?

Here are some excerpts:

Americans live in a culture that is as religious as any that exists. In this article we contend that nationalism is the most powerful religion in the United States, and perhaps in many other countries. Structurally speaking, nationalism mirrors sectarian belief systems such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam and others that are more conventionally labeled as religious. It happens that nationalism also satisfies many traditional definitions of religion, but citizens of nation-states have religious reasons for denying it. We argue that both sectarian and national religions organize killing energy by committing devotees to sacrifice themselves to the group… Although our examples come mostly from the United States and its majority sectarian faith, and although generalization is risky, the principles we describe are broadly applicable to other enduring groups, defined as groups for which members are willing to give their lives.

… The familiar claim that a religious view of the world is characterized by a moral opposition to violence ignores a more complex reality in which faiths that most deeply bind the commitment of devotees are structures for organizing killing energy. This is true both for religions that aggressively kill the Other in the name of a deity or deities and those that pledge their devotees to self-sacrifice when confronted with violence. We shall argue that violent and so-called non-violent religions are structurally indistinguishable from a certain perspective.

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Click to see bigger pic.

what is really true in any community is what its members can agree is worth killing for, or what they can be compelled to sacrifice their lives for. The sacred is thus easily recognized. It is that set of beliefs and persons for which we ought to shed our own blood, if necessary, when there is a serious threat. Rituals that celebrate this blood sacrifice give expression and witness to faith. Sacrificial death thus defines both sectarian and national identity. This is the first sense in which both are species of religion…

On the whole, we misunderstand the genuinely religious character of American patriotism and the violent character of genuine religion. What distinguishes nationalism from sectarianism is not group logic, for both are religions of blood sacrifice. What distinguishes them is historical location. In the West Christianity once could kill and ask others to die in the name of its particular god. In some places it does this still. But in general in the West the power to compel believers to die passed from Christianity to the nation-state, where it largely remains…

Americans traditionally regard the nation-state as the domain of unassailable force and religion as the domain of unassailable truth. This separation of faith and force is markedly unstable and collapses completely in wartime…

If nationalism is religious, why do we deny it? … [The nationalist] god is inexpressible, unsayable, unknowable, beyond language. But that god may not be refused when it calls for sacrifice. …

Some citizens openly speak of the American flag as sacred. Can we disregard the impassioned testimony of others that it is not, and neither is the nation it represents? …

To understand how war is ritual sacrifice, recall that the raw material of society is bodies. Organizing and disposing of them is the fundamental task of all societies. The social is quite literally constructed from the body and from specific bodies that are dedicated and used up for the purpose. The enduringness of any group depends at least partly on the willingness of its members to sacrifice themselves for the continuing life of the group. The creation of national or sectarian religious sentiment depends on a common secret, which is that the underlying cost of all society is the violent death of some portion of its members. …

Does that push any buttons for ya? Respond below.

These ideas don’t make me happy, but the picture above right does. It’s the bookshelf in the study after one of my biweekly trips to the library. As Happygirl will testify, I pretty much jump up and down with glee when I have a pile with such titles as Stupa: Art, Architechtonics and Symbolism, Critical Discourse Analysis and Language Cognition or Foucault, Psychology and the Analytics of Power. I can see your eyes glazing over already 😉

There are 87 books in that photo, my current reading for two papers I’m writing. One is a Foucauldian reading of Western Buddhist meditation. A second is a paper on “civil religion”, the New Zealand state and nationalist wars. My interest in investigating civil religion and war was stimulated by Marvin and Ingle’s highly provocative article Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion, excerpted above.

Civil religion is an established, though contested, concept in sociology of religion. Very simply, it can be several related ideas, either a) a religion becomes a supporter of the state/political system or b) the state uses religion & religious symbolism to promote its agenda -think state prayers on Memorial Day/ANZAC day or the anniversary of 9/11. Or c) the state itself becomes a religion. The theory is debated, of course. I’m not sure I agree with it, but it provokes some interesting thoughts.

The concept of civil religion was not original to Robert Bellah, as one text asserts, nor even Rousseau although he’s generally credited with it. Nope, it looks like “Augustine’s discussion in book 6 of The City of God of Varro’s category of ‘civil theology’ ” started it all off circa 410 CE (Grosby, 2001: 114). Sociological concepts are sometimes much older than commonly thought.

So apparently if we support our nation, we’re religious, regardless of our personal beliefs.

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Does the idea of nationalism as a religion make sense? And, what makes YOU happy?
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One of my all-time favourite tunes, from a band I would see live ANY time.
Slayer | War Ensemble

Those of you who are curious to see the actual book titles can Click to see a bigger pic in yfrog.

References

Grosby, Steven. (2001). “Nationality and Religion.” In Guibernau, Monserrat and Hutchinson, John. (eds.) (2001). Understanding Nationalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Marvin, C. & Ingle, D. (1996). “Blood Sacrifice and the Nation: Revisiting Civil Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion. (1996). 64(4), 767-780. http://www.asc.upenn.edu/usr/fcm/jaar.htm Web March 2011.

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Somewhere, Over The Rainbow

Posted by spritzophrenia on July 28, 2010

Do I want there to be a God? Do I want g0d to exist? Or perhaps another kind of spiritual reality, like Nirvana? Yes, today I think I do.

I’m inhaling the scent from the flowers a dear friend gave me. I’m looking at the sun shining through the trees outside my window, and thinking it would be nice if there was something more than the mere material world. Maybe God. A nice g0d, of course. That would be kinda cool. I’m not claiming my desire for the numinous is evidence g0d exists, although some have argued that.

I can hear my imaginary friend say “Aha! How can you possibly search for meaning without utterly passionless detachment? You’re biased.” To which I smile, “Of course I’m biased. Show me someone who isn’t”.

As Iain writes, there are dangers of wish fulfilment in religion. No-one is completely objective but I think commitment to a position is perfectly ok. It doesn’t preclude the ability to reason well. Philosopher Roger Trigg says scientists are committed to an intellectual position when they work, but this doesn’t invalidate their research.

Dancing in the sunlit forest

Sikh religion ascribes importance to the sanscrit word sat. It means “truth” ¹ and is used in many ways: satsangi (follower of truth), satguru (conveyor of truth), satsang (speaking of truth), and more. I’m committed to truth, as well as to my desires. As Trigg concludes:

It is fashionable to fix one’s attention of the fact of commitment. This is understandable. If our commitment determines what we regard as true, all that matters is whether a commitment is sincere. … As we have seen, however, commitments involve claims to truth which are logically prior to the commitment. It follows that what ought to be of fundamental interest is whether the claims are true and the commitments justifiable. ²

Here’s an example of commitment to an opposite point of view, respected atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel writes about not wanting God to exist:

I am talking of … the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true… It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God: I don’t want the universe to be like that. … I am curious whether there is anyone who is genuinely indifferent as to whether there is a God – anyone who, whatever his actual belief about the matter, doesn’t particularly want either one of the answers to be correct.” ³

The obscenities inflicted upon us by religious zealots revolt me.

However, would I like there to be a g0d? Today at least, I say yes. How about you?

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Notes
1. Sat means more than the English word “truth”, but we’re keeping things simple here. Thanks to Brian at Church of the Churchless for introducing me to the word.
2. Roger Trigg, Reason and Commitment (Cambridge University Press, 1973).
3. Thomas Nagel, The Last Word (Oxford University Press, 1997) page 130 – quoted in Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.

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The Police | Spirits in a Material World

Posted in agnostic, God, god, music, personal, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 97 Comments »