21st Century Religion

This is a paper that I wrote, sadly I had to trash it because it was way too long, but I am quite proud of it and I feel like sharing the entirety of it because it makes an interesting statement to me.  I also, do not think it is plagiarism since the citations also come attached to this and it is my own original work…

This was originally supposed to be a post on a discussion board, so that is why the reference to other discussion posts.

All of the students who have posted seem to have hit upon important points of discussion and explanations of why people kill in the name of religion.  I feel that they have missed some points though and will attempt to expand this discussion a bit further than has heretofore gone.  I am going to do this through arguing that religion creates a sense of community and identity which can then be infringed upon or dishonored helping to cause a justification for killing.  Afterwards I will try to briefly argue that religions attempt to go to war with each other to prove which tribe and religion is more powerful (sort of a Hobbesian sense of state of nature).  Finally, in an interesting thought experiment, I will attempt to argue that our society is intensely religious with what I will call a cult of rationality and that this religion has been in one of the most large-scale wars for domination over other religions.

In the slides online and in the book the idea of communitas from Victor Turner is mentioned (Jourdan 2014, Slide 11 and Miller 2010, 335).  This communitas, according to Turner, is a sense unity with a group of people (Miller 2010, 335).  Religions are one place where this sense of unity can be created through all of the different rituals and having similar beliefs.  I think that this is an important factor in religions which can help to cause a justification for killing.  If one feels like they are part of a tight-knit community one that is so closely tied that the phrase “if you hurt one of us, you hurt all of us” stands and then one of their own people is hurt the others will feel justified in getting revenge.  Take this into religions where there is also the idea of spirits, Gods, gods and other divine or supernatural powers which can also be offended.  Now there is a group of people who have a group of individuals and a belief system to protect from outrages and that can lead to very easy justification for fighting and killing.

Take the story of the Trojan War as a more secular example.  A Greek King’s wife was taken by a Trojan Prince.  The Greek Kings, all being part of a loose identity of “Greek” went to war with the other Greek Kings to get this wife back.  The Greeks have a sense of community with each other and one member had been offended so they went to war to fix the offense.  Even if the story is mythological the basic idea still holds I think.  A more religious example can be seen in the 30 year’s war which had a lot to do with the reformation (Morrison, 6).  The entirety of Catholic Christianity had to deal with this new sect of Protestants within itself and multiple tactics were used on either side.

Another aspect of this killing is to show which religion is more powerful.  The myth of emperor Constantine receiving a sign that he should have his soldiers put the Christian Cross on their shields to win a battle I think is an example of this.  By winning a huge battle under the name of one religion it is a sort of symbol of the ability of that religion’s God(s) to protect its believers, thus showing it is more powerful and more right or true.  This certainly makes the crusades a bit awkward for Catholic Europe at the time since they ended up losing.  So religious communities are groups of people who are closely knit, can be offended and want to establish themselves as the most powerful and most truthful group in religious conflicts.  I am not attempting to say that this is the only justification for religious killing but it certainly seems like this could be an important aspect.  Now this last justification for killing is the one that the cult of rationality has used for the most part.

The first thing I have to do is define this cult of rationality.  This cult believes in the absolute power of reason/logic.  A definition of religion we are given in the slides is:

A religion is 1) a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by 2) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and 3) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that 4) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic (Jourdan 2014, slide 2).

The system of symbols that this cult uses seems to stem from geometry and math in general.  Statistics being one of the main sources of these symbols, this system of symbols is used in scientific journal articles to prove certain things such as whether or not a medicine works.  Or calculus, another system of these symbols is used to argue for gravity and these things establish the motivations of whether or not to take a medicine for a cure or how to explain the world and why things fall as they do.  Gravity then also does step two, by helping along with the rest of physics, to explain how the universe works.  The aura of factuality can be seen by the fact that we call these facts and these explanations and motivations for things are assumed to be real.  I also think one can argue that this cult of rationality is a religion from another list we are given in the slides.

This second list is the four reasons why people would need and have religions.  They are (1) an explanation (2) validation (3) security and (4) defining the world (Jourdan 2014, Slide 2).  This cult of rationality explains how the world came to be (the big bang theory), validates and comforts by arguing that the apparent chaos in the world is controlled by rationality and logically explainable ideas and an idea of gravity certainly validates that we see things fall.  Finally these logical rules also explain the world as it really is.  Now to explain how this religion has been at war with others.

I think this war with other religions can be seen in European ethnocentrism also.  First Nations people in North America being forced off of their own lands, enslaved, destroyed and forced to change their habits and beliefs to fit into the world system of a combination of Christianity and rationality.  Colonialism is another historical example of this war, Europeans thought that they had the better religion rationality and Christianity and went exploring, to get trade yes, but also they went proselytizing and enslaving.  The cult of rationality in having these mathematical symbols for an economy led the way to expansion and then used these symbols to improve weaponry and navigation so that the colonializing rationalists could attack with fancier and more damaging weapons (gun powder instead of bows), move more people and goods around with navigation and higher quality ships among other technological advances that rationality made.  In due time, this cult of rationality has managed to spread across the globe so that the entire world is part of the economy, statistics of the world are taken and everything is put to the rationalist explanations and tests.

This is a somewhat crazy interpretation of the modern world and I am not saying that this is the right way to interpret the world.  I do think that it is important to be aware of how religions can be viewed, interpreted, understood and explained though and performing a thought experiment such as this can show that and help to prevent the ethnocentrism that asilvestri mentioned in an earlier post.  It can also help to show how there can be multiple reasons for religious killing.

Works Cited:

Jourdan, Christine. 2014. “Introduction to Culture (ANTH 202).” eConcordia. http://www.econcordia.com/courses/introduction_culture/lesson5/

Miller, Barbara, Penny Van Esterik and John Van Esterik. Cultural Anthropology. 4th ed. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada, 2010.

Schiller, Friedrich. The History of the Thirty Year’s War. Translated by Rev. A. J. Morrison, M.A. University of Pennsylvania. http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/schiller/30yrswar.pdf

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Teaching Philosophy

There is a lot of information when you search for “teaching philosophy” or related terms, but they are all related to the in-class problems of teaching philosophy.  How to get discussions going, how to make students accountable for doing the reading, etc. etc.  But I cannot find any discussion on the curriculum of philosophy.  So far my philosophy education has been various classes mostly focused on entirely different subjects such as rationalism and epistemology.  Critical Thinking, 20th Century Continental Philosophy and other separate topics of this sort.  I wonder if this is the best way to teach a philosophy major though.  An introduction to philosophy sure, make it a broad course, just get a student’s feet wet in various writers, topics, eras etc.  But, if they are more interested and want to pursue philosophy how should the student learn all of the different philosophical systems?  I understand not every single system can be learned without a minimum of three lifetimes but, the general themes in philosophy at least.  What is the best way to introduce a student with a major in philosophy?  I have not been able to find anyone who has discussed this question.

Does it make sense to be teaching philosophy is this jumbled way? Where I can pick and choose a little bit of Aristotle and then go to Heidegger and then to Descartes then come back to modern texts?  To me no, context is important in my opinion and just throwing various philosophers at me does not help me with that sort of context.  Maybe not every student learns like this, but I think a discussion like this definitely has to happen if it has not already.

I think, that it would make more sense to start with Socrates (which it seems most intro philosophy courses do anyway) and then work historically forward to the present day philosophy.  But, we have to make sure to avoid getting in the mindset of there being Aristotle’s telos of humanity.  Yet, the historical part of philosophy happening is incredibly important.  I have barely ever dealt with Aristotle (less than a one semester course) and then I went on to reading Rationalist texts, who were all attempting to react to Aristotle’s metaphysics.  How in the world can I truly understand these thinkers without having some more thorough knowledge of Aristotle and everything in between the two sets of thinkers?  I don’t think I can.  Maybe historical is not the best way though, it is not exactly friendly to philosophy’s ideal of being timeless.

Another problem is in these classes like “rationalism” I end up dealing with a handful of writers but never really getting into any of them and in some ways it seems that I cannot come to appreciate the vastness of their thought without having read some of their other texts.  Locke, as an empiricist is another example, I have had to go over both his Essay on Human Understanding and his Treatise on Government, but they have never been taught as coming from the same Mr. Locke.  It is almost as if there are two different John Lockes who wrote these two separate texts, yet it isn’t.  The same man wrote both texts and I think that a better understanding of both would come from having dealt with both in the same course.  So a “Locke” course would thus be in order.  But then the student may absolutely despise all of Locke’s writings, but this student would have to understand and know Locke well in order to properly respond to his writing and understand the others that responded to Locke’s writings.  Then there is the question, is one better than the other? Is it possible to reconcile them? What about actual modern philosophy that has not been directly dealt with in the historical texts?

My direct answers to these questions respectively are: No, Yes,  higher level classes, if at all.  (Modern philosophy in the sense of journal articles being written like they are today is terrible in my opinion, but that is another topic.)

So I guess, has this discussion been had? Where at?

Stumbling Blocks

Having some serious philosophical issues, basically due to having come to conclusions that make it unreasonable for me to hold onto other conclusions I have come to. The general conclusion comes from tracing history and wondering about the idea from Burke, that a huge break from history causes more chaos than good and it is better for society to go through evolution and have fewer revolutions.  Which also happens to coincide nicely with the Enlightenment Period, which is very quickly coming to the fore as the main point of focus of my future research and reaction.

The biggest problem though is questioning: what constitutes a huge break from history anymore? Then, depending on the definition, the rest of my philosophical project may have to come down since it could fall into an attempt to break from history too harshly.  Too bad it seems that everyone has already sorted all of this stuff out and I’m just too far behind for anyone to be willing to take the time to explain it all to me.