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  • Technorati: graph / links

    In today’s Guardian - religion & violence


    by Sunny
    21st February, 2009 at 12:44 am    

    I’ve written an article for the Guardian’s Face to Faith column, which is out today in the paper. This is the link. There is lots to say on this issue of course, and 675 words really aren’t enough. I guess my starting point was: when does religion say its ok to people? Other than for Buddhism or Jainism, none of the other religions really abhor violence. My problem is more that when people blame religion for everything, or people try to absolve religion of all blame - both are missing the mark. Religious instruction can inspire violence. The question is: when is that justified?


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    1. Leon — on 21st February, 2009 at 1:05 am  

      From your piece:

      It is a common refrain among atheists and agnostics that religion is a source of violence and that eradicating it would go some way in easing the world’s conflicts.

      Er it is? I don’t know what you mean by ‘common’ (or in fact what data you’re basing this assertion on) but in my experience it isn’t that common. What’s more common amongst us (and I use the word ‘us’ with caution) is a ‘we don’t care about faith, and only do when the doctrinaire/religious groups try to impose their beliefs on us’ kinda attitude…

      What is common is that when a group think they are ‘right’ (Orwell wrote some good stuff on the idea that believing you’re right often leads to a bully mentality) with no doubt or external constraint they will at some point turn to violence to get their way. This happens in all societies, whether religion or a staunch lack of it exists, at some point.

    2. douglas clark — on 21st February, 2009 at 1:40 am  

      Sunny,

      OK, you can probably prove me wrong, what with the Spanish anarchists and such like, but in the main, in general, is it not the case that atheists in the modern world are non-violent?

      I mean, over the last twenty years or so?

      And, as a generally quiet atheist, I do not accept that religous folk are a source of violence. What I would accept is that there are warped religious using monsters that would like to make it so.

      I suppose I’m with Leon in a way. I don’t see common cause amongst non-believers. I just see a huge number of people that have nothing in common other than that.

      Disbelief.

    3. Sunny — on 21st February, 2009 at 1:50 am  

      but in the main, in general, is it not the case that atheists in the modern world are non-violent?

      I mean, over the last twenty years or so?

      Yeah, but that nicely excludes Hitler and Stalin :D

      Leon - well, its asserted on CIF enough times… and you know my world revolves around that… heh

    4. douglas clark — on 21st February, 2009 at 3:18 am  

      I’m not too sure what Hitler actually was, he might have seen himself as a Catholic, or a Nordic God. Anyway, not many contemporary folk seem to have thought he was an atheist. A vegetarian right enough :-)

      Stalin, well he was a bit of a tit. His killing was pretty much indiscriminate. It might all be down to him being an idiot. He had an idea, and folk died for it. Most non-believers don’t want to go there..

    5. Leon — on 21st February, 2009 at 3:25 am  

      Yeah, but that nicely excludes Hitler and Stalin

      Ah yes that old and very tired conflation…

    6. Refresh — on 21st February, 2009 at 9:26 am  

      Sunny,

      ‘when does religion say its ok to people?’

      Wasn’t that an opening line for any corporate interpersonal skills training circa 1980′s?

      ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’.

      And then it transformed into the Thatcherite, ‘You’re OK, but not if I get my way!’.

      And look where its got us?

    7. sikander — on 21st February, 2009 at 9:40 am  

      To read more about Pakistan please visit

      http://real-politique.blogspot.com

    8. blah — on 21st February, 2009 at 10:13 am  

      Sunny
      “. The website IslamOnline.net has a whole section on Islam, Muslims and Violence, arguing that the prophet Muhammad only allowed war for defensive purposes in unavoidable situations. But this is contradicted by the fatwa issued by 500 British Muslims clerics against the terrorist attacks of London: “Islam’s position is clear and unequivocal: murder of one soul is the murder of the whole of humanity.”

      How is it contradicted? Defensive war against armies attacking you isnt murder (Im sure Buddhism and Jainism allow it too) . Blowing up civilians on a London tube is murder. The first is perfectly legitamate; the second totally illegitamate.

      In any case I think the subject is misplaced. While religion may inform violence it isnt the cause of it. The conflicts going on around the world arent based on religion but on issues of land etc.

    9. Riz Din — on 21st February, 2009 at 11:20 am  

      Interesting food for thought, especially as we just don’t know what the world would have been like without religion (more violent, or less?).

      On a related note, the final episode of Iran and the West is on BBC 2 tonight. Must see tv (assuming Channel 5 isn’t showing a Van Damme or Seagal flick).

    10. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 21st February, 2009 at 7:44 pm  

      I think about this topic a lot, and agree with Leon … in both his comments.
      Hitler, Stalin … you forgot to add the French revolution - old and very tired conflation indeed!
      I don’t even know what to call myself right now … I’m sure at some time in history I would have been labeled atheist. I think the concept of religion as a whole needs to be debated, none should be singled out as better or worse than any other. When religion is attached to culture it seems to become a form of racism, add politics and now it’s war. The world is full of great minds from every background, who honestly all say the same exact thing basically, but for some reason people like to pick a few and hold them up as special?

      Sunny,
      I tend to follow along the spinoza path … so in speaking philosophically, “God” has influenced different groups at different times, pertaining to individual circumstance. I live in the year 2009 what would “god” tell us today is the real question that should be asked. How do you use examples from 15?? to justify killing today? you can’t … in todays world who isn’t fighting a defense in one way or another, or at least thinks they are. So if you wish to take such a deontological approach … Religious instruction can inspire violence. The question is: when is that justified? I almost want to say the answer is never … unless you wanna break it down into issues that concern us more directly today, and I don’t see how you could do that and include how is it possible to justify the religious instruction which can inspire violence?

    11. sonia — on 21st February, 2009 at 7:59 pm  

      well said Leon in no.1 - that’s the crux of the matter really.

      how you define the group - well does it matter. religion is significant in as much as it can be an ideology which holds the group together, (it could be nationalism without reference to an ‘external entity’) it really doesn’t matter. the danger applies equally to all groups, thinking they have the right to resort to violence.

      when religion has been used to unify disparate regions into empire - e.g. the Roman empire under christianity, the islamic empire etc. religion has definitely legitimised the use of violence. but then again, empire builders would have found some other way to build legitimacy for their violence in some other ‘identity’ way.

      monotheistic religion in particular has taken the form of “god told me to tell you….” so naturally whatever [prophet x] might have wanted could be conveyed as an order from god to the people. very convenient indeed if that involved activities such as expanding one’s territory which might involve wars etc.

      similarly any government can decide it has the right to go off and kill people in the name of the country (country and god, or just country) so…religion is obviously not the only ideology in the name of which violence is legitimised.

      of course the interesting question is then - how can society ensure that whenever the question of violence it is thought out carefully, can be questioned, that there is some accountability and transparency in the process, and that multiple stakeholders can be involved.

      whether you have a religious organisation that is seen to hold moral authority, or a non-democratic government/governance institution, for me, what is significant is how you shut down dissent/the process for deciding when violence is legitimate.

    12. sonia — on 21st February, 2009 at 8:05 pm  

      so i guess what i am trying to get at - is that what this is all about is Power and Authority. so whether its a religious institution or political institution,

      So if a religion is all about wielding some kind of ‘Absolute Power and Authority’{ which certainly the monotheistic religions are obsessed with their ABsolute truth and hold over the truth that is clearly problematic) then there is going to be trouble if said Authority tells us all we must go to war.

    13. sonia — on 21st February, 2009 at 8:14 pm  

      douglas : think of it this way: you don’t need to believe that “god” told you to kill someone to want an excuse for killing someone/lots of people. violence is entirely a human failing, it applies to all of us - long before we were even coming up with metaphysical constructs. it’s not something we can say only people who believe in ‘pixies’ indulge in. The point is what excuses have humans come up with to “legitimise” killing? clearly religion provides one such excuse, but other excuses work quite well to (like the ‘we’re going to do it to help them/its better for the collective, blah blah)

      so, if you have an imaginary friend, and you claim your imaginary friend told you to kill someone, two things could happen:

      a) it could get you into even more trouble (psychiatric ward) if the society you belong to doesn’t believe in imaginary friends (or if they believe all prophets had to exist pre-1980, be middle eastern men, etc. et.c !)

      or

      b) if the society believes in the imaginary friend, well then it could just be the trick, couldn’t it, saves you from having to think up other excuses.

      whether someone is an atheist or not - will only signify that their justification for violence - will not imaginary friends or pixies. But it could well involve some mythic idea of glory for the “society” or some other idea.

      after all, if a pixie is an imaginary idea, why should it have any bearing on our human propensity for violence. of course i find it no suprise that we humans should project/construct a god who is just a violent sort of thing, (in the sky) who wants worship, etc. etc. much like any king.

    14. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 21st February, 2009 at 8:33 pm  

      well said to you too sonia ……..
      I think there is much to be gained from all and every actuall “religious” writings …. especially those usually outside main stream beliefs. I think if we all took the time to look at each others ideas we would see how much alike they all are instead of separate, as many have been taught … and for what reason? Ideas being broken down into a million pieces works as a battle field just as much as unity can.

      I read this from some muslim philosophy ….

      (2) Al-’Adl العدل - Divine Justice. Facing the problem of existence of evil in the world, the Mu’tazilis pointed at the free will of human beings, so that evil was defined as something that stems from the errors in human acts. God does no evil, and He demands not from any human to perform any evil act. If man’s evil acts had been from the will of God, then punishment would have been meaningless, as man performed God’s will no matter what he did. Mu’tazilis did not deny the existence of suffering that goes beyond human abuse and misuse of their free will granted to them by God. In order to explain this type of “apparent” evil, Mu’tazilis relied on the Islamic doctrine of taklif — that life is a test for beings possessing free will, i.e., the capacity for choice.

      I think it’s pretty right on …
      It is we who chose, not god.

      Did anyone by chance follow the stories about the recent fires in Australia and a possibility of it being a terrorist attack? I just think anyone who wants to use violent actions will find a way to justify it no matter what.

      there have been many many debates on this topic for years and years .. so really it’s nothing new to the table.
      several books too on religion and violence …
      there was an old lecture -cant remember the speaker but it had to do with religion being of possibility and necessity … “a self that has no possibility is in despair and likewise a self with out necessity”

    15. blah — on 21st February, 2009 at 8:48 pm  

      To the above poster

      The Mutazili belief is not considered the orthodox Islamic one

      The orthodox Islamic position is the Ashari one that yes God is always just (its one of His names) but as He understands it not as we do.

      To claim that evil comes solely from human beings is to imply another creator other than God in the universe which contradicts monotheism. Good and evil like everything come from God though it is considered poor adab (manners) to ascribe evil as coming from God.

      The Mutazali notion that God is always just as we humans understand justice (in our limited perspective) was defeated in a famous debate between Abu ‘Ali Muhammad bin ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Jubba’i, one of the most celebrated of the Mu’tazili of 10th century AD and ‘Ali ibn Isma’il al Ash’ari.

      Al Ash’ari had been al-Jubba’i’s student for almost 25 years but later having seen the Prophet (saw) in his dream warning him not to follow mutazilah creed, he departed from them.

      al Ash’ari one day confronted his teacher al Jubba’i with the following problem:

      Three brothers, one evil, one righteous, and one a minor, died. What was the fate of each of them?

      Al Jubba’i answered that the righteous was in Paradise; the evil in Hell; and the third belonged to the vague class of “People of Peace.”

      Al Ash’ari asked: If the minor asked for permission to visit his brother in Paradise, would it be granted? Al Jubba’i's answer, based on the Mu’tazilah doctrine of justice, was, No, because Paradise can be earned only with good deeds.

      Al Ash’ari rejoined: But what if the minor claimed: Had I been allowed to live, I would have earned it.

      Basing his stance on the Mu’tazilah principle of divine omni-goodness, al Jubba’i answered that the boy would be told that it was better for him to have died early.

      Al Ash’ari then drove to his conclusion: But if the evil brother were then to ask God: You have known the good of the minor and decided to terminate his life in order to prevent him from doing evil and ruining himself. You knew my future as well. Why then did you do him the favor and not me?

      Al Jubba’i was confuted and al Ash’ari made his exit from the Mu’tazilah ranks.

      And he was instrumental in destroying the Mu’tazilah rationality

    16. sonia — on 21st February, 2009 at 9:55 pm  

      thanks queen of fiddlesticks. and that philosophy you pointed to (trust blah to come along and thrust the oar in.) certainly makes sense more than anything else.

    17. Katy Newton — on 22nd February, 2009 at 10:06 am  

      Yeah, but that nicely excludes Hitler and Stalin

      Hitler wasn’t an atheist. He rejected traditional forms of Christianity to some extent but he described himself as a Christian in his speeches and believed in an “Aryan” Jesus Christ. It was Hitler who coined the phrase “Kinder, Kuche, Kirche” to summarise what he thought women should be concentrating on (children, kitchen, church).

    18. qidniz — on 22nd February, 2009 at 12:09 pm  

      You really need to give that 500-cleric fatwa a rest. What with its bowdlerized version of Q5:32, it’s an embarrassment, although it’s possible that those clerics may have gauged the depth of kuffar ignorance quite accurately.

    19. soru — on 22nd February, 2009 at 12:49 pm  

      Metaphysics, pretty much by definition, has no influence on human behaviour. One autodidact who reads books and makes up a personal philosophy from them will tend to be much like another, no matter what books they read. Personal singural omnipotent, personal multiple limited, abstract multiple ideal: none of those theological patterns works noticably different from any other.

      Generally speaking, if you see a physically unfit person, chances are they don’t have a personal trainer or go to a gym. Personal, social contact is what counts.

      Chances are, if you see a morally unfit leader, chances are they don’t have a moral coach or constructive community support.

      Now, wierdo immoral loners end usually up as serial killers not leaders, but there are a couple of social patterns that do tend to produce bad people in positions of power:

      1. they go along for forms sake, don’t take any of it at all seriously, like going along to a gym and standing around chatting.

      2. they have a personal cleric on their staff, who’s job it is to take what they want to do and find a matching scriptural quotation, which they then proceed to believe.

      3. they get to write their own scripture and have it taken seriously by their followers.

      Cheney would be an example of group 1, Stalin and bin Laden of 2, Hitler and Shoko Asahara of 3.

    20. The Queen of Fiddlesticks — on 22nd February, 2009 at 3:41 pm  

      blah,
      why did you add that?
      if not to support the connection with violence and religion? not saying YOU support it though …
      I don’t know all The Mutazali teaching, but from this argument alone, orthodox Islamic position is highly flawed, and really the main reason we face the issues we do.
      I have several muslim friends…. they are all the most beautiful people I have ever known … but even though they do not support violence, they accept it, and come to think of it, use this very example above as an excuse to just look away. The extremist version not only use this as a motivation but somehow turn it around so they are doing good? guess what they both call it … the spreading of Islam and all part of gods will.
      The biggest problem is why only when “Muslims” do things it is the will of “God”?
      I could go on and on in a religious argument ….
      and not just against Islam I promise …
      But what I don’t understand most is how this “god” people worship is for peace and war?
      makes no sense at all.

    21. comrade — on 22nd February, 2009 at 9:25 pm  

      Stalin, well he was a bit of a tit. His killing was pretty much indiscriminate. It might all be down to him being an idiot. He had an idea, and folk died for it. Most non-believers don’t want to go there..

      If Stalin was an idiot, how did he defeat the most powerfull army in the world?

      So all those who died fighting the Nazis were following an idiot, if you are serious student of history then I suggest you go and study the arcives in Russia that are open to the public.

      At what point was Stalins killing indiscriminate?

    22. douglas clark — on 23rd February, 2009 at 12:53 am  

      comrade @ 21,

      Dunno where to start…

      I’d agree that Uncle Joe was who, contrary to John Wayne, beat the Nazis.

      OK?

      It was Russians what done it. We owe WW2 to them, from Kursk to Berlin.

      I have not forgotten that.

      Happy now?

      But that doesn’t excuse this:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Purge

      now, does it?

      I’d have said that much of that was indiscriminate, but you might not..

    23. douglas clark — on 23rd February, 2009 at 1:22 am  

      Sonia @ 13,

      Thanks for the response. As usual, I don’t think there is a hairs breadth between what you think and what I think.

      But there you go. I could be wrong.

      Can I go off at a tangent?

      It is really moot whether thee and me, as representatives of homo sapiens, aggressively eliminated our nearest competitor, neanderthal man - and woman, or not.

      It seems to me that some of that aggression - for I think some of our ancestors did, and some didn’t - still reverberates on a closer scutiny.

      Some humans will not be content until they are allowed to do away with any race, other than their own. And, if we don’t stop them - for I have more in common with you than I have with them - then the god awful bastards will have won.

      It doesn’t matter which religion or race you are. What matters is sending these bastards into hell.

    24. comrade — on 23rd February, 2009 at 8:48 pm  

      douglas clark

      But that doesn’t excuse this:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Purge

      now, does it?

      I don’t relay on the above or one source for my search for the truce. Please read the link below and give me your unbiased oppinion. All the document are avaiable on the Moscow trials.

      http://eserver.org/clogic/2005/furr.html

      This article does not simply inform readers of new facts about, and interpretations of, the history of the USSR. Rather, it is an attempt to bring to a non-Russian readership the results of new research, based on Soviet archives, on the Stalin period and Stalin himself. The facts discussed herein are compatible with a range of paradigms of Soviet history, just as they help to disprove a number of other interpretations. They will be utterly unacceptable — in fact, outrageous — to those whose political and historical perspectives have been based upon erroneous and ideologically motivated “Cold-War” notions of Soviet “totalitarianism” and Stalinist “terror.”2

    25. Don — on 23rd February, 2009 at 9:10 pm  

      And after you have read it, Douglas, don’t forget to follow the links.

    26. comrade — on 23rd February, 2009 at 10:36 pm  

      DON

      And after you have read it, Douglas, don’t forget to follow the links.

      Douglas is intelligent enough to make is own decisions, unlike some sheep amongts us.

    27. Don — on 23rd February, 2009 at 10:53 pm  

      I think Douglas knew what I meant.

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