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Does Faith really cause War?
Posted: 25 April 2008 11:54 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I read Sam’s book when it was first released and it was a turning point along my own journey for answers about life.  I’ve reread both “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation” multiple times.  I was inspired to read more. The past three years I’ve read Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Kant, Heidegger, Freud, Spong, Spinosa, Russell, Elliott, Wilbur, Sartre, Hawkings, Camus, Mack and many others.  I’ve also undertaken reading the entire bible to see what that book really says, if anything, and investigating the authors (that tells a story itself).  This last time through “The End of Faith” I looked at the book with more critical eyes and more questions about Sam’s proclamations (as he would have us do about religious belief).  Something glares at me from his words.  He proclaims that “Faith” and “Religion” have been the causation of much murder, violence, and even war.  I can not agree with that.

If he were to restate his assumption like this, “Faith and Religious Belief are often used by people to justify Genocide, Murder, Violence, Bigotry, Misogyny, and Terrorism,” then I would be in total agreement.  But the way he introduces this idea (the bomber on the bus) and further reinforces the argument throughout the book is simplistic and lacks empirical evidence or statistics as to causation.  In places he drifts from his wonderful logic to appearing an alarmist.  I’m just not sure that declarations about religious ideas causing future nuclear annihilation are probable.

Why worry?  Well, this fuels the fires of those, like Chris Hedges, who will argue the same.  Further, this posit is no different than the pronouncement that secular genocide (such as committed by Hitler, Stalin, and Mao) is caused by lack of belief in God (Atheism).

War happens when people want land, power, resources or wealth.  The sides may be divided between two opposing religions.  The war may be justified by “Holy Writ.”  I think that Salman Rushdie did a great job of illustrating how the Muslims and Hindu lived for generations side-by-side in Kashmir before politics pushed the Imam’s down from the hills to cause trouble.  But saying that war is caused by faith or religion is a stretch, no different than saying that genocide is caused by atheism.  People, not ideas, do the killing.

Some Muslims today kill in the name of Islam.  Islam appears to me to have some very violent ideas written into the Qur’an and Hadith.  Many people have died at the hands of Christians throughout history.  The bible appears to me to have some very violent teachings.  These are bad people using bad ideas to justify their terrible deeds.  They do not represent the whole of humanity or their people.

Suicide bombers and genocidal leaders are sociopaths.  To compare the average theist or atheist to either is wrong.  I understand that Sam is arguing that by allowing moderate (non-violent) theist (and faith in general) to exist, we therefore all have to allow the sociopath theist and their beliefs.  That seems a stretch as well as most people on this planet share abhorrence to violence and wish to save all things precious to them.  I agree with the essence of Sam’s logic here, but his delivery creates too much dichotomy between otherwise biological creatures who, beyond our belief system, are fairly similar.

I posit that non-believers need to change to tenor of this argument.  I’m not sure what we will ever accomplish when we make statements about “ending” faith.  It may be wiser to enjoin the faithful into dialogue and discourse (like we do on this forum)and quit making that discussion an either/or proposition.  Let’s help them to constantly consider the validity of their beliefs as opposed to always attacking those beliefs.  Truth, like water, will find its level.

Lastly, I have to wonder if the book was titled “Let’s Reconsider the Logic of Faith” would it have sold 20 copies?  Do Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins inflame with their titles to simply sell more books?  I hope not.  All are brilliant men and I hope our logic is better than that.

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Posted: 25 April 2008 01:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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Nice post and thoughts LandR

Of course, war is a subjective term. Civil war, insurgency, genocide, etc., Many terms could be called ..war

Did George Bush’s faith have anything to do with him invading Iraq?

Did not Bin-laden and Al Qaeda declare war (jihad) on the US? We must assume that is faith based.

Perhaps ‘war’ is not the universal term that Sam should have used here but I think you know and agree with his premise. Throughout human history, violence has been used and justified because of faith.

It is so disgusting to all of we ‘rationalists’ because faith is taught to everyone for the purpose of finding and sharing peace and tranquility. For it to have the opposite affect is unacceptable, as Sam indeed points out better than almost anyone. grin

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Posted: 25 April 2008 01:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Thanks McCreason

McCreason - 25 April 2008 05:09 PM

Did George Bush’s faith have anything to do with him invading Iraq?

No.  His Saudi friends, his friends in GE, GM, Halliburton, Raytheon, and other US Conglomerates who financed his campaign, his bumbling father who never finished a much more justifiable fight, and his hawkish arrogance put us in that war…let’s keep this one off Jesus’ account.

McCreason - 25 April 2008 05:09 PM

Did not Bin-laden and Al Qaeda declare war (jihad) on the US? We must assume that is faith based.

No…they want us (our soldiers and oilmen) out of their country and they see the dollars we send (to buy oil) as the foot of the Saud family on their neck.  Muslims have used their religious beliefs to justify atrocities…but I think the airplanes flown into the World Trade Center was not about Islamics seeking to proslytize us or to further their cause for establishing the next Caliphate.

McCreason - 25 April 2008 05:09 PM

Perhaps ‘war’ is not the universal term that Sam should have used here but I think you know and agree with his premise. Throughout human history, violence has been used and justified because of faith.

That is exactly how he needs to state it!  He intentionally embellishes the language so he sells more copies of the book (my opinion).  I don’t think driving a wedge between myself, and reasonable Christians (like Bruce and Clay) is a step towards anything positive.  The language is alarmist.

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Posted: 25 April 2008 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I agree with the posts above. Logic has an excellent point. If we accuse the faithful of causing war, then they will point to Hitler, Stalin, and etcetera to justify their positions. Rather than each side calling the other wrong, perhaps open dialog may be possible amongst the less radical on both sides. Nevertheless, the reality of marketing dictates that a book’s title and content be provocative enough to stir interest if an author expects to sell enough volumes to turn a profit.

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Posted: 25 April 2008 02:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I recently heard a great quote. ‘Bad people do bad things and good people do good things. But for good people to do bad things, that takes religion.’

I think Sam would agree.

Theist or nontheist, bad people will always start wars and do bad things.

But for a theist to do it…..does it not seem worse? Just a question.

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Posted: 25 April 2008 02:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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It’s a good question if we want to start stacking ourselves into piles.  Actions are actions, no matter who commits them.  Sartre says we are all the resume of our behaviors.  I think it can be reasoned that people will commit bad behavior regardless of affiliation.  Affiliation neither makes that action better or worse.

It is one thing to challenge a theist for his/her belief; it is quite another to blame them for the mass of history’s perils.  I think Sam goes too far and compromises some of the relevance of his work.

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Posted: 25 April 2008 09:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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Most excellent points all, and I say this with the utmost respect for those points. And now for the giant BUT: Let’s discuss this one in particular:

L & R: “People, not ideas, do the killing.”


But don’t ideas inspire the desire to kill in the first place? Doesn’t the thought of killing precede the action… even if it’s within moments?

Another thing that occurred to me while thinking about the points:McLogic and McCreason, you’re both being too mcPolitcally mcCorrect. What Sam did when he pushed the envelope was give some people paper cuts… ouch. Those things fuckin’ sting mon. Did he go too far? Perhaps. BUT, when crushing taboos—(no criticizing religion allowed)—sometimes a good, hard, passionate, verbal smashing is what’s required. The goal isn’t destroying religion per se, rather, it is to educate individuals so that they understand the history of religion throughout human existence so that they can think for themselves, have true freedom of consciousness and conscience so that religions and religious belief take their proper place in the history of humankind: In the history and/or myth section in the library and educational systems. There is no longer any need to lie to peoples about where we as mammalian life came from. I think that Sam’s book merely attempted to wake people up to the irrationality and dangers of “true belief” based on man-made myths. In “The End of Faith” I think Sam is talking about the ending of belief without evidence and the danger of organized religion promoting stuporstition and divisiveness inherent to organized religions. Individuals ought to be free to define god however one wants, just don’t impose IT on others, aye?
Teaching critical thinking is critical at this point in human history… allowing irrational religionists to determine our fate will lead to the continuation of irrational religionists determining our fate. Religionists have had over 15,000 (maybe longer)  years of controlling our fate (with their notions of “the mysteries”) as a species. It’s time for them to step aside and allow rational minds give it a shot.

Just my thoughts on the subject. grrr
Peace.
II

[ Edited: 25 April 2008 09:12 PM by isocratic infidel]
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Posted: 26 April 2008 05:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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isocratic infidel - 26 April 2008 01:04 AM

But don’t ideas inspire the desire to kill in the first place? Doesn’t the thought of killing precede the action… even if it’s within moments?

Yes, ideas and desire for something are catalyst of killing.  Let me be more specific here.  Do you think most of the people who are committing acts of violence are thinking to themselves,“I’m going to kill this non-believer because Jesus would want that” or “If this woman does not wear a headscarf according to the prophet, she should be stoned to death”?  If so, that person is a confused sociopath.  My posit is that such actions are the result of other motivation and Religion is used to excuse the deed.

isocratic infidel - 26 April 2008 01:04 AM

Another thing that occurred to me while thinking about the points:McLogic and McCreason, you’re both being too mcPolitcally mcCorrect.

That may be a fair criticism; and for the record, I hate religion.  Again a further thought: most of the people I interact with and have invested relationships with in this world are religious.  These are wonderful human beings.  These mammals’ belief systems were welded in their worldview through forced inculcation.  I posit that we, as non-believers, will have more success eradicating unprovable and untenable proclamations by exposing those we love to the truth as opposed to trying to inculcate a new set of ideas.

isocratic infidel - 26 April 2008 01:04 AM

What Sam did when he pushed the envelope was give some people paper cuts… ouch. Those things fuckin’ sting mon. Did he go too far? Perhaps. BUT, when crushing taboos—(no criticizing religion allowed)—sometimes a good, hard, passionate, verbal smashing is what’s required. The goal isn’t destroying religion per se, rather, it is to educate individuals so that they understand the history of religion throughout human existence so that they can think for themselves, have true freedom of consciousness and conscience so that religions and religious belief take their proper place in the history of humankind: In the history and/or myth section in the library and educational systems. There is no longer any need to lie to peoples about where we as mammalian life came from. I think that Sam’s book merely attempted to wake people up to the irrationality and dangers of “true belief” based on man-made myths. In “The End of Faith” I think Sam is talking about the ending of belief without evidence and the danger of organized religion promoting stuporstition and divisiveness inherent to organized religions. Individuals ought to be free to define god however one wants, just don’t impose IT on others, aye?

Yes but if truth is our currency, then let us be truthful.  War is not caused by religion.  Religion needs to go away because it is not true; embellishing its effect makes us no different than the person who holds on to the scientifically impossible virgin birth myth.  Let’s not commit our own deceit to justify an end.

isocratic infidel - 26 April 2008 01:04 AM

Teaching critical thinking is critical at this point in human history… allowing irrational religionists to determine our fate will lead to the continuation of irrational religionists determining our fate. Religionists have had over 15,000 (maybe longer)  years of controlling our fate (with their notions of “the mysteries”) as a species. It’s time for them to step aside and allow rational minds give it a shot.

Just my thoughts on the subject. grrr
Peace.
II

Yes…it is time.  Religion promotes the strangest and the most immoral behavior; let’s prosecute the behavior.  Isocratic, you know I respect your opinions and we are on the same side.  I come here to sharpen my tools for the fight I’m trying to conduct in the real world to make it better for my children and someday grandchildren.  I want that world to be based on the truth.  Let’s not allow our passion for truth and morality take us down the same dark road that those who strive to promote the god hypothesis.  We don’t need to…we are right!

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Posted: 26 April 2008 06:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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I do not ‘hate’ religion but I think it ridiculously irrational. If some folks need it for their personal lives, I have no problem with it, as long as they leave me out of it.

Therein lies the problem. They can never, because they are taught not to, leave me out of it. Thus it becomes an issue.

It is the difference betwen moral absolutism and moral objectism.

Moral absolutism, driven by ‘faith’ causes by it’s very nature, violence, bigotry and other irrational behavior.

This is the fundamental point of Sam Harris’s writing and I doubt many folks here would disagree with that premise.

Sam admits in EOF that christianity and judaism have come a long way in the last 500 years, concerning philosophy, mainly do to advances in science and secularism. Western christians are not going to be starting a crusade or ‘war’ anytime soon. Islam, of course is another matter.

LandR, your points are well thought out, however I don’t think Sam is being disengenuiuos to sell more books. I just think he has come to the point where he believes ‘faith’ throughout human history has caused more harm to our species than good. Anybody can of course disagree with that assertion.

Can you imagine what our world would be like today if the science advancements of Copernicus, Galilieo, Newton, Darwin etc., etc., would have been suppressed by the church? We WOULD be in religious wars and zealotry would be the norm of our societies today. Luckily for human kind, reason carried the day. But it is an ongoing and constant struggle, fer sure.

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Posted: 26 April 2008 07:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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LogicAndReason - 25 April 2008 03:54 PM

. . .
If he were to restate his assumption like this, “Faith and Religious Belief are often used by people to justify Genocide, Murder, Violence, Bigotry, Misogyny, and Terrorism,” then I would be in total agreement.  But the way he introduces this idea (the bomber on the bus) and further reinforces the argument throughout the book is simplistic and lacks empirical evidence or statistics as to causation. . . .

Some cause-effect questions seem to require more empirical evidence than others. In the case of scripture-backed, monotheistic religion, history itself provides all the lessons that are needed, as such religion arrives on the scene with instructions and lessons assumed either to be guided by or fully written by God. Such lessons and instructions are typically seen to be holy, and to contain in their every word, permanently valid “Truth.” They’re a large and diverse enough collection of writings to allow religious leaders to pick and choose lessons and commands to suit literally any ambition that might possibly occur to them.

Even a mild study of history clearly indicates that torture and death rule the day for non-club-members (unbelievers), unless secular folks force the kooks to behave. Many societies even today remain somewhat in awe of so-called holy writings—even some of the most secular societies. To me, this is a truly perverse condition. Who’s to say the old kooky ways won’t return with full political power? Is that an over-reaction?

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Posted: 26 April 2008 11:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Logic
If he were to restate his assumption like this, “Faith and Religious Belief are often used by people to justify Genocide, Murder, Violence, Bigotry, Misogyny, and Terrorism,” then I would be in total agreement.  But the way he introduces this idea (the bomber on the bus) and further reinforces the argument throughout the book is simplistic and lacks empirical evidence or statistics as to causation.  In places he drifts from his wonderful logic to appearing an alarmist.  I’m just not sure that declarations about religious ideas causing future nuclear annihilation are probable.

I don’t agree with you Logic. I think Sam is saying it is Belief that gives people the justification to do the nasty deeds. If you truly believe that Infidels must die that is the justification for the violence. I don’t think you can separate belief from justification.  And the bomber on the bus is a perfect example of that “marriage” .

You must have a belief to justify the act. If you don’t believe Allah wants infidels to die, then you have no justification for killing them.  If you don’t believe that God says embryos are humans you won’t kill doctors who perform abortions.

Without the belief you only have moderate, liberal religion.  And thank God for that.

Logic
Further, this posit is no different than the pronouncement that secular genocide (such as committed by Hitler, Stalin, and Mao) is caused by lack of belief in God (Atheism).

And that is a faulty argument as most atheists will argue.  It is not the lack of belief in God that set the tide for Hitler, Stalin, etc…again it is their belief that they can kill millions because they hold a belief that justifies the killings in their minds (that they are superior, that they are making the world better, that they have a right to cleanse the world of filth, etc….) Their belief isn’t a religious belief, it is a belief in their own superiority and infallibility (which is narcissism on steroids.)

Religion is dangerous because it does not require people to give reason to their behavior. 

War happens when people want land, power, resources or wealth.  The sides may be divided between two opposing religions.  The war may be justified by “Holy Writ.” I think that Salman Rushdie did a great job of illustrating how the Muslims and Hindu lived for generations side-by-side in Kashmir before politics pushed the Imam’s down from the hills to cause trouble.  But saying that war is caused by faith or religion is a stretch, no different than saying that genocide is caused by atheism.  People, not ideas, do the killing.

People do the killing but that is like saying guns don’t kill, people kill.  Well, guns do kill and so does religious belief.  When you use a religious belief to justify your violence, then religion has been the cause of your actions.

All actions start with a belief in something.

I posit that non-believers need to change to tenor of this argument…. Let’s help them to constantly consider the validity of their beliefs as opposed to always attacking those beliefs.  Truth, like water, will find its level.

I think Sam is saying that.  I don’t see that he is saying we must blow religion into the high heavens.  I think he is saying we need to have conversations (atheists with religious)  about reason, instead of blowing each other to smithereens.

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Posted: 26 April 2008 01:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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Krishnamurti comments:

“If you belong to any particular ideology, to a specialized prejudice, even if you call it religion, then you will be the cause of strife and misery.”

Twenty years later he said: 

“Wars are inevitable as long as man is living within the frontiers of an ideology . . . War is the ultimate expression of the inner conflict.  There is war going on all the time, in the business world, in the political world, in the world of the religious people, between the various gurus, the various sects, the various dogmas.”

The dictionary defines ‘bigot’ -

“bigot: one obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his own opinions and prejudices.”

Is it possible to be a Christian or a Muslim and not be a bigot?  As far as I can tell from reading the Bible or the Koran, bigotry is required to be a member of those religions.  They don’t admit that there are other ways to live a good or happy life.  They don’t teach you how to be free of all idealogies.  Their message is, “Join me, accept my tenets, or spend eternity in hell.”  Clearly, this is a recipe for violence.

Sam is interested in Zen with good reason.  It teaches people how to be free - free from ideologies, free from Zen, free from Buddhism - free.  “Show me your face before your parents were born.”

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Posted: 26 April 2008 06:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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homunculus - 26 April 2008 11:35 AM

Some cause-effect questions seem to require more empirical evidence than others. In the case of scripture-backed, monotheistic religion, history itself provides all the lessons that are needed, as such religion arrives on the scene with instructions and lessons assumed either to be guided by or fully written by God. Such lessons and instructions are typically seen to be holy, and to contain in their every word, permanently valid “Truth.” They’re a large and diverse enough collection of writings to allow religious leaders to pick and choose lessons and commands to suit literally any ambition that might possibly occur to them.

homunculus, excellent rebuttal and I agree with your deduction here about people using any lesson, proclamation or command to suit literally any ambition…but we fight over temporal wealth, land and for power/control…only the most feeble (such as the suicide bomber in Sam’s story) will find belief a muse for performing such deadly art.

homunculus - 26 April 2008 11:35 AM

Even a mild study of history clearly indicates that torture and death rule the day for non-club-members (unbelievers), unless secular folks force the kooks to behave.

Very true, the Inquisition and Witch Trials alone are incomprehensible in terms of the suffering and if you made the statement that “Faith/Religious Belief has caused tremendous suffering, was responsible for innocents being tortured and gave sociopath ecclesiastics justification to commit acts of terror,” I would agree.  But citing Kosovo as an example, while the Muslim Albanians and the Christian Serbs do represent two different faiths, neither is fighting for Jesus or Allah; those are the mascots.

homunculus - 26 April 2008 11:35 AM

Many societies even today remain somewhat in awe of so-called holy writings—even some of the most secular societies. To me, this is a truly perverse condition. Who’s to say the old kooky ways won’t return with full political power? Is that an over-reaction?

No Sir it is not!  We must be ever vigil.  But we need not sensationalize our point when it is as valid as your point above.

I hope you all have fun tonight in Sonoma!  I wish I could have been there this weekend.

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Posted: 27 April 2008 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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LogicAndReason - 26 April 2008 10:11 PM

. . .
I hope you all have fun tonight in Sonoma!  I wish I could have been there this weekend.

I had a great time visiting with Bruce Burleson, Isocratic Infidel, and Sander, and talking briefly on the phone with Noggin, who wasn’t able to make it up.

I feel fortunate to have had the above folks stop by. I’m almost out the door right now, but I’ll try to go back to the Events thread later tonight with some sort of take on what happened. Maybe the others will describe things, too.

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Posted: 29 April 2008 08:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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An interesting thread.  I think that there are two interconnected issues here: (1) that conflict is caused by material issues (desire for land, wealth, etc.) that can be traced back ultimately to survival and territorial instincts; (2) the us vs. them of differing belief systems (extending this beyond religion to any difference in belief) used as an excuse to justify our treatment of “them” as territorial instincts are taken from the material to the mental (i.e., defending our physical territory becomes defending our beliefs).  In some sense, one could say that aspects of religion are intended to mitigate the tendency to fight, while other aspects can easily be co-opted to justify it. 

Two books by Doris Lessing seem relevent here:

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside A short book consisting of a series of radio talks given in 1985 (CBC Massey Lectures).  This looks at the human propensity to hang onto beliefs, and to commit barbaric acts against people classified as “different.”

The Sentimental Agents in the Volyan Empire A satire looking at how people fall for rhetoric and get trapped into belief systems that are endemic in a culture.  (The action takes place in a small intersteller empire where the local disease is “undulent rhetoric.”)

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Posted: 29 April 2008 10:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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burt - 29 April 2008 12:37 PM

An interesting thread.  I think that there are two interconnected issues here: (1) that conflict is caused by material issues (desire for land, wealth, etc.) that can be traced back ultimately to survival and territorial instincts; (2) the us vs. them of differing belief systems (extending this beyond religion to any difference in belief) used as an excuse to justify our treatment of “them” as territorial instincts are taken from the material to the mental (i.e., defending our physical territory becomes defending our beliefs).  In some sense, one could say that aspects of religion are intended to mitigate the tendency to fight, while other aspects can easily be co-opted to justify it. 

Two books by Doris Lessing seem relevent here:

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside A short book consisting of a series of radio talks given in 1985 (CBC Massey Lectures).  This looks at the human propensity to hang onto beliefs, and to commit barbaric acts against people classified as “different.”

The Sentimental Agents in the Volyan Empire A satire looking at how people fall for rhetoric and get trapped into belief systems that are endemic in a culture.  (The action takes place in a small intersteller empire where the local disease is “undulent rhetoric.”)


It’s like you’re a professor or something burt.  cheese You make most excellent points monsieur. Trotting out South African author, Doris Lessing, is nothing short of brilliant. THe second recommend sounds particularly entertaining—who can resist a good satire? What do you think of Lessing’s “Briefing for a Decent into Hell” ? I’d heard of her, but have never read her works. I’m surely heading to the bookstore now.

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