Sunday, 20 December 2009

Three religions Meme

John at The Pageless Book inadvertently exposed my ignorance of many things bloggish by tagging me in this Meme. Having taken advice, I hope I'm observing the conventions correctly. Thank you John for this addition to my education, as the internet comes to rival the radio as my principal source of ideas and interesting people.

So I'm asked to cite 3 religions which are not my own that I find interesting.
1: Judaism
My interest here is spurred by what little I know of the Rabinic tradition. It contains so much wisdom, humour and, in a religion whose practices can be so exacting, a rebellious streak when it comes to questions of doctrine, to the extent that some of these sages are not sure if they even believe in God, and thoughts about any after life are as vague as human ignorance would suggest is quite right and proper.
As if to prove that we humans so often fail to capitalise on our gifts, it is unfortunate then that the Jewish State and many of its people seem able to forget this wise and humane tradition, and their own history, when confronted with the aspirations of others.

2: Islam
I know little of Islam in detail, except that it is as broad a "church" as Christianity, is prone to the same sectarian strife, and shares much in common with the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Those who speak for mainstream Islam, as in this "Prayer For The Day" from Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, are speaking a language with which all people of good will can identify. We do well not to judge any religion by its extremists. As in my third choice below, we should not confuse another's craving for martyrdom with our own need for a scapegoat.

3: Fundamentalism
In his response, John cites Atheism as one of his 3 belief systems, which makes me feel justified in choosing fundamentalism in all its forms as one of my 3.

My interest in fundamentalism is centred around my fear of it, and my fear of it is centred around the dangerous consequences produced by the two groups of people it brings together- those who promulgate fundamentalism, and its adherents. The promulgaters, whether they consciously seek it or not, have power over the adherents, because the adherents are simply responding to our universal human need for some kind of certainty, something we can know beyond any doubt to be true; something to impose order on apparent chaos. The greater our need for this certainty, the more vulnerable we will be to someone else's grand solution, and the more potential power that person will have over us. If that solution happens to lend righteousness to our particular prejudices, so much the better. Who better to endorse our vengeful spite than God?

Atheistic fundamentalism is as absurd as its theistic version, but it is at least spared the worst aspects of this monolithic "divinely inspired" vengeance against #"them".

In parading these hobbyhorses, I tag and warmly recommend:
Annie at Daily Ruminations
Carl McColman at The Website Of Unknowing
And Cat and Peter at Quaker Pagan Reflections.
"God bless us every one".

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The limits of consensus

Recently, I've been preoccupied with the notion of discussion as a means of learning something, or as a means of achieving some consensus on questions of social policy based on mutually desired objectives rather than ideological divisions, or the dubious pleasures of self vindication at someone else's expense. This means that not only must I refrain from casting the first stone, but I must not retalliate in kind if someone else starts throwing rocks (see my last post for the kind of approach I would try to adopt). Not retalliating is really hard for me, but it's the only way to stop a conversation degenerating into that good old polarised point scoring, which becomes an end in itself, while issues like care and concern for our fellow citizens can easily get lost in the noise of battle.

To anyone living in the real world, experiencing rising impatience with my wishful thinking, I would say that I know very well that the conditions for such constructive dialogue are quite rare, but aspiring to them is the only way out of the ideological arm wrestling which is no solution to human problems. The reality of such aspiration can be sensed in the tentative steps towards peace in Northern Ireland, where the people have finally grown sick of violence and gangsterism in the guise of principle, where two mutually exclusive ends were used to justify indiscriminate carnage as the means of their achievement.

If dialogue means that both sides are fully prepared to modify their positions in the face of reason, there are many people with whom such a discussion will be impossible. And I would contend that there are belief systems with which such a dialogue cannot be undertaken.

As an illustration of both these points, I would direct you to this articcle, an exerpt from a book by Frank Schaeffer. Clearly there is no dialogue to be had with this kind of steadfast believer. It would undermine the very certainty which is the basis for their belief. A frail human need for certainty which we all crave and, once found, I can imagine how hard it would be to relinquish, facing the terrible possibility that these very beliefs might turn out to be "the house built upon sand".

Now for the difficult part. Most of us raised on democratic ideas would say that we all have a right to believe what we want. There are exceptions though, and I think that the same "most of us" would say that belief systems which actively promote the hatred and physical harm of others are not acceptable.
Schaeffer describes a novel in which we can read a fictional account of the believer, raptured into glory, able to look down upon God's vengeance on "The left behind". The relish here is palpable, and is clearly a major factor in driving him away from this kind of "end times" Christian Fundamentalism.There is nothing like legitimising our most destructive urges to give a belief system broad appeal. The dismembering of Christians by lions, the public burning of heretics, public executions and mob lynchings, have all been the focus of gleeful public spectacle. These people are "other", just as those "left behind" will be "other". The deliciousness of legitimised hate.

This is something which makes me least inclined to believe in an interventionist God. Once God can intervene, it can be on behalf of you or me. Such a God can make choices. Confusingly, this might lead to you or I being convinced that we were members of "the chosen people", but two different chosen peoples, as in the case of extreme Zionists and Islamists.

In setting out his ideas of some of the features of "The Authoritarian Mind", Mike Labossiere describes how authoritarian leaders and their adherents justify their particular set of absolutes as good. Those they oppose are therefore evil, and anything done to eradicate that is acceptable.

To my mind, it is the use of the Divine in support of this kind of inhumanity which is the true blasphemy, manifest evil; what Paul describes as "The devil appearing as an angel of light".

So how should we respond? As with retalliating to stone throwing, how do we resist evil without resorting to it?
It was at this point when I read this post on Daily Ruminations.
"If we let the Spirit move as it should and not try to stifle it, if we let it rain
down on us freely, taking what nourishes and leave the rest"
On reading this, I had the sense that I was trying to solve an essentially spiritual problem in my head. The complexities of how to confront evil constructively are too much for this brain, beyond knowing that I must not stand mute in the face of evil. At some point a stand has to be taken and a line drawn. But openness to the essence of good is my best hope. If "love one another" is our first commandment, then hatred can have no place. We are only human, and I think we can be angry with those who hate in the name of God, but only angry with those who are still as worthy of love as we are. We can hate the actions of those who abuse their humanity, But not our fellow humans, which is where the evil begins, of which we're all capable given particular circumstances and temptations. In the face of intractable complexity, the source of good is where I look for guidance in how to deal with the evil in myself and others.

Consensus yes, but not at any price.