Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Notes on Other Religions

I was requested to talk about religions other than Christianity. It is pretty hard to do, for me! There are reasons - and I think they're good reasons - why I devote most of my religious talk to Christianity. Christianity is the dominate religion in the United States, and amounts to a state religion, here. I mean, we get off several of the major Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas and do not give the same level of regard for any other religion. The second big reason is that, globally, Christianity is the most powerful religion, with fully 1 in 3 people at last nominally Christian. Additionally, when you look at the powerful, wealthy nations of the world, they are dominated by at least nominally Christian nations. So, locally, nationally and globally, there are a lot of good reasons for me to talk about Christianity.

I admit a certain hesitation with talking about Islam, to avoid the appearance of racism. Oh, I think that Islam is at least as bad as Christianity. Is the organized, industrialized viciousness of Christianity better or worse than the Islamic suicide bombing terrorism? That's a moral question that's too thorny for me to answer, but I am certain that both religions, even in their more moderate forms, constitute support structures for the militaristic factions that are doing their dead level best to plunge the whole world into murderous chaos. However, from about the Battle of Lepanto onwards (that was in 1571), the onus of exploitation has largely gone from Christian nations into Muslim nations, and certain from the time of Peter the Great and the Great Northern War (say, 1700) it has been almost entirely one way. In the past century or so, the US has been a prime player in the exploitation of Islamic nations, through colonial and capitalist imperialism. On whole, unless you want to start talking about events that happened before the 16th century, Islamic nations and people have been largely subject to all manner of imperialism from Christian countries.

That makes me hesitant, as a member of the Christian country that is most involved with imperialism in the Middle East at the present time, to take an unnuanced a view of Islam, rather than criticizing specific events, people, governments, etc. That said, I think that Islam is at least as filthy a religion as Christianity, at least as oppressive (though Muslims tend to oppress their own people far more than Christian nations do - Christians tend to export their exploitation, often to Muslim nations), murderous and altogether as stupid.

I don't talk about Hinduism because it's a hard beast to cage. I am not knowledgeable enough about Hinduism to meaningfully talk theologically about it on this blog, I feel. From what I know, however, maybe I should talk more about it. Unknown to most people, in India there is essentially a low level civil war going on between militant Muslims and at least equally militant Hindus. There's a kind of Hindu extremism that is flatly as fascist as anything that the West has ever produced. We're talking about Dr. Strangelove levels of whackiness: Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president Jana Krishanmurthy blithely dismissed war with Pakistan as being able winnable because, at most, 20 million Indians would die whereas Pakistan would be destroyed! Krishamurthy was, unknowingly, quoting General Turgidson! "No more than ten to twenty million killed, tops!"

This low level conflict in India fairly regularly has riots in which thousands are killed, often with the support of the largely Hindu police departments.

Additionally, there is a second low level religious conflict going on in India. About twenty percent of the Indian population are technically Hindu but casteless, or outcastes, called Dalits. In rural areas, the oppression of Dalits can be truly savage with Dalits forbidden to come within 64 or 128 paces of upper caste people (warriors and priests, shocker that, right?) on penalty of death. It is sometimes enforced - even on whole Dalit communities! Dalits are often forced to use different wells and springs that caste Hindus, and, believe me, they do not share equal water rights. Unsurprisingly, the Dalits don't like this, and there are occasional armed clashes where, sometimes, thousands can be killed. There is also a lot of hard to document low level violence between Dalits and caste Hindus. In Bihar, for instance, there's this group, Ranvir Sena, that uses organized violence to repress Dalits. The Dalits have responded with the creation of groups like the Dalit Panthers Movement which attack upper caste members.

In eastern India, the Dalits often make up the bulk of Maoist organizations, some of which are also engaged in low level civil warfare against various Indian states. Maoism's atheism appeals to people who have been brutally oppressed as a people on religious grounds for thousands of years.

I should also note in all of this there is a large racial component. Members of the upper castes tend to be, uh, whiter than lower caste Indians. The upper castes were populated the Aryan invaders thousands of years ago. The lower castes and especially the Dalits tend to be the black skilled Dravidian peoples that the Aryans conquered.

Which is to say that Hinduism is pretty fucked up, too.

There are religions, old ones, even, that I don't have any problems with. Buddhism and Taoism (and I account myself a philosophical Taoist) are almost entirely absent the sort of racist, nationalist murderousness of most religions - indeed, many people consider them to be philosophical systems rather than religions, because of their lack of things like an organized priestly hierarchy and absence of religious dogma. My view is that to some people both Buddhism and Taoism are certainly religions, but they also have a large number of people who are philosophical adherents. But even at the most religious, neither Buddhism nor Taoism systematically supported mass murder, conversion through violence, or even the "enforcement" of doctrine on co-religionists in any meaningful capacity. Oh, sure, Buddhists and Taoists might argue with each other, but it very rarely comes to blows. So that's pretty cool.

In general, however, my feeling about religion is that I don't care what adults believe in privacy. I am only concerned with the effects of those religious sentiments when they're brought into the social and political sphere - when people, on the grounds of their private religion, start making special status claims for the articles of their religious faith. When they start to force their religion on others. In the biggest religions in the world, they've all been doing this centuries and them doing it is literally ingrained in culture. They've been doing it so long they expect to be able to continue doing it. Indeed, it's been this way for so long that many agnostics and atheists support the special cultural status of religion! They attack anyone who dares to challenge religion as merely a social, economic and political entity, no different from a major corporation or government! Which is absurd. Freedom of speech and conscience, as well as the separation of church and state, demands that religion be treated identically to any other human created institution, that it be measured on the same grounds and with the same tools as we use to measure any other institution. This is true of all religions, so virtually everything I say about Christianity applies to any religion whose adherents generally claim special status on religious grounds - which is the religion of almost all people everywhere.

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