I look forward to read Karen Armstrong's Fields of Blood, which is waiting for me at one of the stops of my inevitable work tours. Ms Armstrong's point, as I picked up from the reviews, that religion can not be held directly responsible for violence, intrigued me, because that is precisely what I believe. I, therefore, look forward to engage with her argument and understand the other point-of-view. I am indeed not dismissive before I managed to read the book, but hoping that she has something to offer more than the assertion, oft-repeated, that no religious doctrine is actually founded on violence.
It must be noted, at this point, that while this is a common defense (that no religion encourages violence), it is, by no means, the common understanding. A large number of people in the world believe Islam directly encourages violence, given the acts of Islamic terrorists in the recent years. Indeed, a previous generation, having experienced worldwide bloodshed incited by imperial powers, would have thought the same about Christianity. And, if any Hindu, or Budhdhist, or Parsi, feel elated that they might not have such a blood-stained record, they should be reminded of their past, when they held the power, wherever they held the power, was guilty of similar violence. This is the record which, to my understanding, Ms Armstrong seeks to examine - and hopefully offer absolution to all religionists.
Personally, of course, I am unconcerned whether one religion or another preach violence. It would be expected that they would not, as any religion is meant to be a code to build a community, and this becomes untenable if founded on violence (this is where religions and cults may be different). However, violence is not just subjective, where someone murders, rapes or plunders others (though there is plenty of that going on in the name of religion), but also objective, where we use instruments of power and influence to undermine ways of life and values of other people. Even the perfectly peaceful men of faith, using the instruments of their faith, often commit such objective violence, and this lies at the heart of my problem with religion.
In an earlier post, arguing that education must guide, and be guided by, a secular morality (see here), I pointed out two particular issues with religious morality (and that we often equate morality with religion, disregarding any other alternative). First was the us-and-them thinking inherent in any religion, the inevitable claim of a defined way of life that that represents a superior way of life than others. Even the religion founded on tolerance and kindness must inevitably have a doctrine of enlightenment to justify its very existence, and this is the ground of objective, and in many cases, subjective, violence. The second problem was that all religions appeal to a higher authority, God or a prophet - that is why religions exist - and somewhat diffuse the sense of responsibility of our own actions, by either transferring it to the Higher Authority (remember Lord Krishna telling Arjun that he is merely carrying out divine will) or by offering absolution.
Whether or not any religion may preach violence, by defining otherness and by diffusing the responsibility of individual action (either by transferring or deferring it), I shall argue, it creates the conditions for violence. And, if we are looking at the actions of even the most peaceful of the believers (Quakers or Jains), these two conditions exist - and it promotes violence of one kind of another, rejection of values of others or social exclusion of people not following the chosen path. Religion, of any kind, allows ideas to become ideology, and that underlies most violence that human society has seen.
I often wondered, when allowed to sit in dinner tables at devout Christian households, why people thank God for their daily bread. Regardless of the awkwardness of being a non-Christian and a non-believer amid people saying prayers, I often have the mixed feeling about the beauty of praying, how gentle and civilised it is to be thankful for the little gifts of life, and yet how monstrous it is to forget all those toiling men and women who have cultivated, preserved, carried, nurtured, and indeed cooked what eventually became our daily bread! These moments somewhat crystallise my problems with religion - the ethical nature of being thankful to others for our sustenance being directly undermined by a wilful disregard of others, including our own mother and sisters, who are more directly responsible for our well-being.
That religious violence is not just about marauding armies or terrorist bombs, but about the subversion of our real life interdependence through faith in the metaphysical, needs to be factored in when we think about what role religion should play in public life. Indeed, I am not an atheist as institutional atheism goes, because there is nothing ethical about violent non-belief. Indeed, current atheism commits the same crimes that men of faith regularly do - engage in us-and-them thinking, justify means by the ends, commit objective violence in the form of social exclusion and disregarding other views of life and allow ideas to become ideologies - and therefore, fails to provide an ethical alternative. An ethical life is not an atheistic life - and the word Humanism has indeed been hijacked to mean exactly that - but one where one lives in the present, engages with the whole species with their differences and incongruities, take responsibility of their own actions.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
The ‘Why’ Question? Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one. The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags acros
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.