Fighting Words — An Alternative Solution?

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by Neil Godfrey

In my rush to complete the previous post I forgot to catch hold of a thought that zipped past me at the time. I am not so sure that what I understand is Hector Avalos’s rational solution to religious violence is really viable. If religious belief is part and parcel of human nature — and I understand anthropologists tell us it is, or that it is at least a universal in all human cultures — then I don’t see how attempting to persuade believers to reconceptualize their faith is going to get any traction in any significant scale. People often enough seem to value more highly unverifiable scarce resources than material ones — which is why Avalos considers religious violence as more immoral than other types of violence.

Maybe a more promising solution is to take a leaf out of the book we read by those who do work with conflict resolution in the verifiable world. One of the aims of the United Nations was to ensure there were no more scarcities of food, shelter, education and so forth.

Would not a solution to religious violence, however imperfect as the UN is imperfect, be for those who are skilled at conflict resolution and who do come to perceive religious violence as an extension of conflict over scarce resources, for such people as those to work on building something like a counterpart to the United Nations and its ancillary bodies?

The difficulty of course is that believers, by the very nature of their beliefs, will tend to see any such bodies, indeed the arguments of Avalos themselves, as inspired by Satan to destroy their faith. But that’s where the specialized skills of trained conflict resolution professionals are called for.

And/Or maybe we ought to be studying what factors have been behind the decline of public religious expressions in some of the more atheistic countries such as those pagan Scandinavians and see what lessons can be learned from those. If social reinforcements to lead people to value religion as a private matter, something kept behind closed doors, could be found, that might also be more likely to help in the long-run.

It’s easy to throw up one’s hands in despair. But before I become too committed to taking up another cause I really do think our number one issue now is human survival against the threat of environmental changes. We need to work first at preserving the human species before evolution decides its one and only experiment with intelligent life forms was a big mistake.

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Neil Godfrey

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3 thoughts on “Fighting Words — An Alternative Solution?”

  1. I’m not sure religion is that fundamental to humanity that it can’t morph into something more secular (or verifiable, to use Avalos’ term). There are a lot of aspects of religiosity, where taken together, can mean “religion” but the individual pieces can be used to create something else. Any system that takes advantage of our cognitive architecture to maximize prosociality, but minus the appeals to superempirical agents like gods, could probably supplant actual religious belief.

    As I recall one anthropologist put it, people don’t go to church because they believe in god, people believe in god because they go to church.

    What are some of the things that happen in a typical church service? People sing together, they might dance together or otherwise do certain movements in harmony, maybe even engage in some other forms of rituals; churches also provide you with a ready made community to stave off loneliness.

    Not all religions or religious services have to have these things. The thing is, the religions without those aspects are the ones that did not survive. With religions, it’s evolution acting on “memes”; where the most successful religions are the ones that promote the most prosociality among a wider ranger of people (Richard Carrier somewhat noticed something like this in one of his mythicist presentations). The ones that don’t are left behind in history. And not all secular groupings are without some of those qualities like moving together or having rituals (think of military bootcamp). All of those qualities (and more) of religions were put together by happenstance, sort of like random mutations. But we are starting to get a hold on why some religions are successful and why some aren’t. And there’s no reason we can’t use that knowledge to build a better secular alternative.

    You might be interested in the research of Ara Norenzayan, his book goes into some of these things.

    Then again, it’s not like getting rid of religion will get rid of many of the negative aspects associated with it. The underlying psychology of belonging to a group makes us more hostile to those who aren’t in the group we identify with. It’s really a double edged sword.

  2. A bit of reality check for my atheist friends as to how far apart atheists and Christians really are. Even if an atheist were to wake up one day and realize that hey, I guess God really does it exist and it is He that is keeping everything in the universe going, and He that gives me my next breath. Ok, now is that atheist right with God? No! Its not enough to believe in God The Father. Those who have peace with God have it only through faith in Christ and His finished work or atonement for our sins. The atheist and the “religious” person who rejects Jesus as The Way, the Truth, and the Life, have the same fate. It is the only the believer in Christ, that has received forgiveness of sins, that is right with God, and has eternal life. Just a bit of clarification. God Bless, oh sorry, I mean bless.

  3. While I accept the notion that it is human nature to believe in the supernatural, I don’t accept that it is human nature to believe in one “true” god. That is something that is taught and can only be mandated and enforced by a strong central state. Judaism is the first example of a religion having “one true god,” at least of which I am aware, and that “religion” actually began as a state where following the laws of the state/religion was required because God mandated the laws. My current dating of this type of Yahwism is the early second century B.C.E., with the Jerusalem-centric exclusive Yahwism not coming about until the middle of the second century B.C.E., so it isn’t all that old.

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