HOW THE WORLD MADE RELIGION A SCAPEGOAT FOR CONFLICT.

In this new, not so brave world, pervasive and violent conflicts are not and will not erupt because of religion but increasingly from civilizations which are culturally different. The world is in the simultaneous process of fragmentation and integration not because of religious difference, but because of a “Clash of Civilizations

The results of the 2016 BREXIT referendum, the US elections and the French 2017 Presidential front-runner whose campaign claims that French traditions are under threat from immigrants and Islamic fundamentalism is highlighting the significant changes and differences that is occurring in our civilization today. Civilization is a cultural entity which involves language, values, norms, ideals, modes of thinking of successive generations, a way of life, religion, customs, etc. However, of all the objective elements that define civilizations,  religion is the defining characteristic of civilizations, as Christopher Dawson said “the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilization rests“.

Of the five “world religions”, four – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism – are associated with the world’s major civilizations (Sinic, Japanese, Hindu, Islamic, Orthodox and Western). The fifth religion, Buddhism is not associated with any civilization.

The most dramatic and significant contacts between civilizations were when people from one civilization conquered and eliminated or subjected the people of another civilization. As Geoffrey Parker observed, “the rise of the West depended upon the exercise of force“. To prove the point, he posits that the West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas, values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence to colonize territories as Europeans controlled 84% of the earth’s surface by 1914.

Western civilization however, has never generated a religion.  But globalization, championed by the West, have caused states and governments to lose the ability to control the flow of ideas, money, technology, goods and people; and civilization is bringing with it all of its major elements including religion.

Since Western civilization has not generated any major religion, its unfamiliarity with religion is at the root of its unwillingness to tolerate the  opinions, belief and practices of other civilizations or to accommodate religious diversity. Many in the UK who voted to leave the European Union (EU), voted to leave because they want to stop immigration into the UK and the US elected a President who wants to restrict the entry of the entire Islamic civilization into the United States under the assumption that Muslims are a threat to the US national security.

The real issue is that globalization has enabled the rise of populist movements and the West finds itself dealing with multiple identity crises, and has erroneously framed religion as the cause for the crisis of global insecurity and conflict. It is therefore in the interest of the powers of Western civilization to work with the Islamic civilization to address terrorism and fundamentalism. The level of cooperation will need to go beyond conventional security partnerships to tackle the deeply rooted political causes and ideological justifications of conflict.

We have allowed our civilization to outrun our culture; we have allowed our technology to outdistance our theology and for this reason we find ourselves caught up with many problems.“
—Martin Luther King, “Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood“ American Rhetoric (delivered February 26, 1965)

 

TO DISSENT IS TO BE REASONABLE.

Without dissent, many of us would still be slaves and indentured servantsPromoting a view and a policy that doesn’t allow citizens to protest the actions of their elected representatives is to take on the philosophy of all of the despots and dictators who kept their citizens silenced and afraid of retribution.

The entomology of dissent has its origins in the early 15 century Latin word dissentire meaningto differ in sentiments, disagree, be at odds, contradict.” In the 15th century, Galileo Galilei challenged the Church with his dissenting view by stating that the Earth and other planets revolve round the Sun. He died under house arrest.  Had President John F. Kennedy not listened to dissenting voices, the unimaginable catastrophe of nuclear war with the former Soviet Union could have occurred in 1962 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis.

WHY GUYANA NEEDS DISSENT

Cass Sunstein, in his book Why Societies Need Dissent shows that nations are far more likely to prosper if they welcome dissent and promote openness.  He shows that dissent is the leaven which propels societies to be productive, innovative, creative and attractive to human beings from diverse cultural backgrounds. But dissent is a principle frequently more recognized in theory than in practice by elected officials in democratic societies.

While Guyana is experiencing its first mass dissenting exercise since the post 2015 general elections with protest against the roll out and implementation of a parking meter system by the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown, the political establishment has largely allowed and even encouraged space for this fundamental process of dissent.

Prior to 2015, dissidents would be intimidated by the presence of a water tank, armed police presence sometimes resulting in the shooting of protestors, threats to livelihoods,  various acts of harassment to experiencing the deadly cost of being a dissidentGuyanese would hope that these public expression of disagreement with majority-held views, would be the new essential component of open democratic politics in keeping with the constitutional articles 146 which enshrinesfreedom of expression as a core value” and 147  which enshrinesfreedom of association to protect the collective pursuit of common goals” of Guyana. The constitution of Guyana gives every citizen legitimacy to be a dissident.

SAYING NO TO PARKING METERS.

The Mayor and City Council of Georgetown’s posture for lock-step conformity to the parking meter system from citizens are wrong and comes from uninformed thinking. They must understand that the influence of the dissenters is for the better. A council cordoning themselves off from the people—listening to the Mayor only and reading scripts that parrot rather than test their assumptions—spells trouble.

To be reasonable, when the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown is manipulative and misleading its citizens, is to dissent. To be reasonable, when the city council is allowing a foreign entity to claim the right to the city over citizens right to own and also claim their city, is to dissent. To be reasonable, when the city council refuses to be transparent, is to dissent. As Julien Benda argued in La Trahison des Clercs, democracy and civilisation depend on intellectuals resisting conformity and power.

The Misunderstanding of Religion and Faith

I have maintained a reluctant position of not engaging in debates about religion as I find it is almost always ridiculed and criticized as inherently the source of intractable ethnic and global conflict without understanding the difference between religion and faith.  At an elementary level, most people who discredit religion are unaware that the current system of international relations among states and the principle of sovereignty have their foundations in religion – The Treaty of  Westphalia – and represented a new diplomatic arrangement  for states that ended a 30 year war (1618-1648) in the holy roman empire, an 80 years war between the Spanish and the Dutch (1568-1648) and allowed rulers of imperial states to independently decide their own religious worship and each prince would have the right to determine the religion of his own state.

Religion

To adequately address and generate the hypothesis of this discussion, a starting point is to enquire how religion and faith is defined in the current international system.  This definition remains largely misunderstood by many.  Religion has three distinctive features; (i) belief, (ii) identity and (iii) values. Religion as belief pertains to the convictions that people hold regarding such matters as God, truth, or doctrines of faith.  Belief religion may emphasize, for example, adherence to doctrines.

While religion as belief emphasizes doctrines, religion as identity emphasizes affiliation with a group. In this sense, identity religion is experienced as something akin to family, ethnicity, race, or nationality. Identity religion is something into which people believe they are born rather than something to which they convert after a process of study, prayer, or reflection.  Identity religion is less likely to emphasize shared theological beliefs and more likely to emphasize shared histories, cultures, ethnicity, and traditions.

People may consider themselves Muslims or Hindus on the basis of ethnicity, even though they have not been inside a mosque or temple for twenty years and even though they know little about the Qur’an or Bagwan Kieta. Ziad Abu-Amr, author of Critical Issues in Arab Islamic Fundamentalism, in Religion, Ethnicity, and Self-Identity: Nations in Turmoil says “Arabs, regardless of whether they observe the outward manifestations of religion or not, insist that they were born and remain Muslims.” This affiliation extends even to those who may be self-consciously non-religious.

A fourth facet of religion, which is distinct from the previous two but is likely to be tied to one of them in the mind of the religious person, is religion as a way of life. In this facet, religion is associated with actions, rituals, customs, and traditions that may distinguish the believer from adherents of other religions. For example, religion as a way of life may motivate people to live in monasteries or religious communities, or to observe many rituals, including praying five times a day, eschewing the eating of pork, or circumcising males.   But for other people, religion is the salient aspect of their lives. It may demand prayers five times a day, constant efforts to propagate the religion, refusal to eat meat, the wearing of certain types of clothes, the requirement that beards be grown or that heads be shaved. In this facet, “religion is perhaps the most comprehensive of all human activities.”

But Monica Toft in her paper “Getting Religion? The puzzling case of religion in civil war” probably has the most useful definition of religion.  She defines religion as a system of practices and beliefs that includes most of the following elements: belief in a supernatural being, prayers, transcendent realities such as heaven and hell, a distinction between the sacred and the profane, a view of the world and humanity’s relation to it, a code of conduct, and “a temporal community bound by its adherence to these elements.” Each faith has its own beliefs and prescribed practices; they tend to be uncompromising and each holy book serves as a guide of conduct approved or mandated by a supreme being.  Religion tends to be uncompromising and limit the conduct of followers in important ways. For example, the Ten Commandments found in the bible’s book of Exodus Chapter 20 give ten uncompromising commands to the people of Israel.  Thus a secular actor (or state) can be coerced or deterred by threats; where as a zealot (or theocracy) may be impossible to coerce or deter in the same way and may instead choose to sacrifice tangible benefits for intangible benefits.

Faith and not religion is the substance.

(Pistis, fides). But the basis of any religion is faith. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew means essentially steadfastness, cf Exodus 17:12, where it is used to describe the strengthening of Moses’ hands; hence it comes to mean faithfulness, whether of God towards man (Deuteronomy 32:4) or of man towards God (Psalm 118:30). As signifying man’s attitude towards God means trustfulness or fiducia. It would, however, be illogical to conclude that the word cannot, and does not, mean belief or faith for it is clear that we cannot put trust in a person’s promises without previously assenting to or believing in that person’s claim to such confidence.

To conceptualize the notions of faith and religion, we must understand that individuals of faith worship a being that is not only greater than themselves but also greater than their governments.  The question then is, how can governments dependably believe in their citizens when their citizens believe in something higher than their governments?

 

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