Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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.

click to enlarge

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.

Respond

Does the idea of nationalism as a religion make sense? And, what makes YOU happy?
Please subscribe (top left) 🙂

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.

Posted in Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Interview with a Modern Pagan

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 13, 2010

I strongly believe we need to talk to each other about our spiritual lives. Even though we may respectfully disagree, I believe that peaceful co-existence of all religions in the 21st century depends on this.

Some people believe the solution to religious conflict is to suppress or exterminate spirituality, at the very least by ridicule. I think history shows this is highly unrealistic— look at the way religious life has sometimes thrived under active persecution. Polls consistently show that even with a decline in traditional beliefs, new spiritual practices are springing up to take their place. Whatever the spiritual landscape looks like in a few hundred years time, I doubt it will be 100% atheist.

Hence, I interview various believers and non-believers here on Spritzophrenia. I’m grateful to Freeman Presson for his willingness to share about his life. Freeman strikes me as a humorous and thoughtful man. Without further ado, I present:

Symbol of Enlil, Sumerian God of the Sky, Earth, & Water

Symbol of Utu? Sumerian sun God, known as Shamash in Akkadian

Interview with a Pagan

Jonathan: Freeman, let’s start with the classic “Age, Sex, Location?”

Freeman: Birmingham, Alabama, USA will do nicely. I don’t need to hide, I don’t even remember where the closet is. I’m going to pass on that age question, don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression. Let’s just say I have been an adult for a fairly long time now.

Jonathan: Tell me a bit about your background – did you have any kind of spiritual upbringing?

Freeman: I was raised in a mainstream Protestant church. My first mystical experience happened in that church when I was four — but it was before a service, and had nothing to do with Christianity. I was a
fairly devout little guy from ages 8 – 12, until I decided to actually read the entire Bible.

I put it down after finishing Revelation, and I remembering thinking “I don’t know what I am, but it’s not that.”

I got along with closet atheism for a while, but the spiritual realm was not done with me. Along with a lot of this and that, including some early attempts at magic, and some intense experiences with entheogens in my late teens/early twenties, I settled into a phase of “dabbling in Zen.” Then there’s another blank spot before I found a teacher and spent over 10 years really practicing.

I sort of abruptly exited regular Zen practice in the late 90’s, and along with my new love (now my wife), began to explore some more down-to-earth experiences.

Jonathan: How would you describe your spiritual path now? How did you come to practice what you do?

Freeman: It started with figuring out what sort of experiences my wife was having, and developed from there. Her tutelary spirit, Lilith/Lilitu, introduced us to some other deities from the Ancient Near East. I had never heard of my Ilu, Ningishzida, before I was directed to work with him. It had the definite feel of bringing someone out of a quiet semi-retirement.

When we found some other people who wanted to participate, we formed Temple Zagduku. Our work is a mixture of shamanic, devotional, and magical practices. We have more or less regular relationships with six
Deities. We adopted the motto “Namsaga,” which is one of the Sumerian terms for pleasure: as far as we could tell, it is the closest to “bliss,” as in “Follow your bliss.” It’s our equivalent of “Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

So we are loosely reconstructive, hard polytheists, although I am at root “model agnostic” about the workings of the Divine. If someone wants to insist that it’s “all in the mind,” I just grin and say, “So
you agree with me that the mind is a vast and wonderful place. Good.”

Jonathan: Can you tell me a bit more about what a “hard polytheist” is?

Freeman: That is one way to classify a point in the space of modern Pagan theologies. Some people believe the Gods are some sort of archetype or function of the mind; some believe they are all aspects of the One; but a hard polytheist accepts the simple explanation that there are individual Gods and Daimones who each have their own powers and personalities.

As I said before, when people say that the Gods are archetypes or whatever, I don’t argue with them. I might say, “So, the Gods are all in your mind? At least we agree that the mind is a large and strange place.”

[Jonathan’s note: We discussed polytheism on Spritzophrenia at White Men Need More Ganesh]

Jonathan: What does your magic involve?

Freeman: Nowadays I do more meditation and journey work: theurgy rather than thaumaturgy. It’s about developing my self and my relationships with my Deities and guides rather than producing “special effects” in the outer world.

Jonathan: What’s your day to day life like? Do you spend your whole time doing ‘spiritual’ stuff?

Freeman: Quite the opposite, it is a struggle to find time to do my practices any more, or to schedule anything with a group. We are busy folks with a little kid like anyone else.

Jonathan: Why the Sumerian connection, for you? You sound like you’ve researched that a bit.

Freeman: I don’t know why I, in particular, would have that connection. You’d expect Celtic or perhaps Germanic Deities, or something from the American Indian realm; but they called me. It would never have occurred to me. I tried to work with Hermes first. I got a sense of “something” there but no real interaction. Then I got “clobbered” by my Goddesses and introduced to some of the others.

Jonathan: (The question I ask everyone) How do you know your beliefs are true?

Freeman: I don’t call something a “belief” if I know it’s true. The phrase” scientists believe” in place of “current scientific theory suggests” gripes my butt. I have had experiences that I couldn’t have had any other way, and my experiences are undeniable. If I could ‘prove” any of it, it would be science instead of spirituality.

I do not have to justify my spiritual practices and experiences. I’m not selling them as a cure for anything but boredom… but spiritual boredom (anomie) is a serious condition in its own right.

Jonathan: Thankyou Freeman, I hope to chat again in future.

Freeman: You’re welcome.

.

.

For those interested in reading further, Freeman writes at http://freemanpresson.wordpress.com and http://ulbh.livejournal.com You can also read about one of my own Pagan experiences and more interviews. If you’d like me to interview you, leave a comment.

Respond

What questions would you ask Freeman? (He may pop in and answer if we’re lucky.) What other thoughts has this raised for you?

Please share this article:

Posted in god, pagan, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

White People Need More Sex – Humour Break

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 7, 2010

Ooh, it’s been so SERIOUS recently! Time for some light relief. White people need more sex:

We talked recently about Eat, Pray, Love, so seeing this made me chortle:

Drink Play F--k

I don’t know if it’s any good, here’s a review. “Drink, Play, F**k: One Man’s Search for Anything Across Ireland, Las Vegas, and Thailand”. Love it.

Your Thoughts?

Please share this article:

Posted in humor, humour | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »