On Religion And Violence

This is unfortunately once again a relevant topic. Here are a couple of random thoughts:

Those among the New Atheists who like to claim that religious violence will die with religion are kidding themselves. They gloss over the various crimes of 20th C. Communism since they like to claim that it was like a religion. There just have to be no religions and no substitutes for religion (political ideology, nationalism) and then people will stop committing extremely violent acts. I think this mentality was best treated in the South Park episode “Go God Go” in which Cartman travels to the future to find that there are three sects of Atheists (including one made up of the sea otters pictured above) battling for world supremacy. People are wired for religion, or at least religious-like conviction, and doing away with religion or Marxism or whatever will not change that.

I wonder what the New Atheists think of Göbekli Tepe, the Turkish archaeological site where an 11 000 year-old temple was found? What’s revolutionary about the discovery of Göbekli Tepe is that its construction pre-dates the agricultural revolution, it is the work of hunter-gatherers who had built an intricate temple structure with crude flint tools. The conventional view was that people didn’t really build elaborate temple cults until there was a surplus provided by agriculture to allow for an artisan class for construction and a priestly class for oversight. Prior to that, devotion would have had to been accomplished using minimal resources. Now though we have evidence that suggests that causation might have gone the other way, the desire to build sacred places prompted agriculture and city building. The most radical shift in human material culture might have been undertaken for the sake of religion, what are we to make of that?

I’d propose here that the impulse to resort to a religious, or at least some kind of absolute, claim about reality is inescapably human. That if it isn’t religion it will be something else. Maybe it will be that there will be future wars fought on the topic of how to be a better Atheist like South Park suggested. I don’t know, but we are not going to do away with absolute claims and we are not going to stop using violence to solve them. Here interestingly is where we come to a sort of entry point into the mind of Anders Breivik. He is not what most evangelicals would have called a “Christian” given that the evangelical emphasis is on conversion and on a personal relationship with Jesus. If not evangelical, is there some other way in which Breivik really does think of himself as Christian? Perhaps he is the final, decadent stage of Christendom. He appears to be Christian in the sense that he prefers Norway’s Christian heritage and he sees “Christian” as shorthand for various Western values of which he approves and which he believes are under immediate threat. His Christianity is a territorial, political, philosophical, and cultural entity, a sort of Christ-less Christendom.

The threat of religion is often located by the New Atheists in the most fundamentalist variants of each faith – those who really do believe in the most literal, the most radical metaphysical claims of a religion are most dangerous. Here we have a different sort of fundamentalist: He really does believe, but not in the sort of transcendent realities that are supposed to be so dangerous in religious believers. This doesn’t make sense, unless we locate the threat of violence in human nature rather than in systems that make transcendental metaphysical claims.