regimen of rambling 3

(Warning: this is freewriting)

Religions are just as valuable as any well-developed thought system (like political or philosophical ideologies). And maybe even better? because many religions have a much deeper and richer tradition of discussion within their communities… and some political ideologies don’t go back very far, and certainly don’t have a WHOLE human community contributing to their understanding of themselves. Religions do have hierarchies, but they all – at least the western ones – include in the very basis of their thinking the assumption that the individual’s experience, personal experience is valid and must be accounted for… also that the experience of the average person or the uneducated person is also valuable. The poor are included (ideally) equally with the rich. (I’m going to limit myself to western monotheism, because I just don’t know enough (hardly anything at all) about eastern religions.)

So of course it’s not the knee-jerk reaction or superficial or uniformed opinion of the religious person that is valuable. I mean , it is valuable as that PERSON is valuable, but it’s not the value I want to place on religion in the writing classroom.

It’s the tradition, the well-developed religion which is helpful… which contributes to the conversation of humankind.  It’s these traditions which contain within themselves hundreds sometimes thousands of years of discussion, with liberal, moderate, and conservative wings, with trends back and form (e.g., the pendulum trend in christian history between enthusiasm and intellectualism – back and forth, back and forth, every 75 or 100 years or so – e.g. the great awakening of 1742 being followed by _____ and then later religious thinkers/leaders trying to find the balance, the midpoint between them) Isn’t that a process that creates a rich and fruitful (though, not of course, free of sins of arrogance and judgment) discourse community?

This is interesting. I’m trying to think. I don’t think anything like this – talking about religious tradition as a discourse community – has come up in my reading so far. Well, it HAS. I’m sure, it has. I mean, obviously religions are discourse communities. But I haven’t come across anyone talking about that fact as a way to argue for the inclusion of religion in public discourse?

Just read this article by one Pamela Bone: “Religion: Good and Bad” I like writing like this. I was thinking it’s what I’m looking for in my students’ writing: it’s thoughtful and balanced.  And, in this case, it’s got lots of lines that help me think through things.

Bone’s first two paragraphs:

‘Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities,” said Voltaire. The books of the major religions contain passages that are absurd and worse than absurd. What are today’s kindly Christians to make of this instruction to genocide in the Bible: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” (Numbers 31:17-18)?

What are modern-thinking Muslim men to make of the list in the Koran of women who are forbidden to them, which includes (quite rightly!) their mothers, daughters, mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law, and also married women, “except those whom you own as slaves”?

That Voltaire quote. Wow, that is a good one. Really. I like that, because it’s so true and, of course, “those who can make you believe in absurdities” can refer to political dictators as well as religious leaders.  Hitler’s “Let’s murder all Jews as punishment for creating all our problems!” is about as bad as it gets. And those scriptural sins Bone lists? Those are exactly why, when I was in my late teens and early 20s, even though I was so attracted to religion, it repelled me: passages like that would repel and passages like Luke 6:27 would attract. I spent five or six years in this attraction/repellant(?) cycle — but now I realize that’s because I had no methodology for dealing with the contradiction. I assumed they both had to make sense together, literally. But I had no knowledge of or contact with the complex and developed hermeneutic created over 2000 years (though it’s not monolithic… and it’s continually reformed (though in some sub-traditions more than others)).

Anyway, yep, those two passages are in the same scripture. No wonder theology is so important! No wonder a religious community has to develop a hermeneutic, a theology, in order to help them interpret the WHOLE mixed bag of scripture and not throw out the terribly-needed and precious baby with the bath water.  And no wonder there’s such a difference between “popular” religion (or should I say, individual religiously-educated opinion) and the actual rich tradition (balanced, sane, and helpful usually) of a religion.

Okay, I had to stop and now I’ve lost my train of thought. I’ll just go back to Bone’s article. Her third paragraph:

It’s become obligatory when commenting on Islamic terrorism to say that this is a distortion of Islam, that Islam is a religion of peace. In fact, as some reformist Muslims acknowledge, the Koran also contains what Christian reformers say the Bible contains: “sins of scripture”. In the Koran can be found passages that promote peace and passages that urge killing. Like the Bible, it is contradictory and confusing. An impartial reader might wonder why God couldn’t have made his intentions more easily understandable.

Heheh, a PARTIAL reader like me DOES wonder the same thing! But I think I gradually developed a view of scripture that, while highly valuing it, does not deify it. And I do HIGHLY value it. Reminds me of NT Wright, Anglican theologian whom I very much admire. I disagree with the conclusions of his struggle with the issue of St Paul’s view on same-sex relations (I don’t want to use the “homosexuality” because it’s such a recent word, concept). But what a mind and heart that guy has. And I like how, and I agree when him when, he emphasizes that even when interpretation of scripture seems too difficult, when it seems to lead us in ways we don’t want to go, we need to struggle with it, anyway. Not, we need to believe it anyway, not that we need to believe some already-decided interpretation of it. We need to struggle with it anyway.

Bone’s last paragraph:

Without religion there would still be art. Without religion there is still beauty and goodness. And without religion, mankind will find reasons to go to war. Yet it remains the case that the best societies in the world are secular societies. And given that some people’s religious certainties are putting everyone in danger, governments have a responsibility to keep religion low-key. Our government should not be promoting and favouring religion in the way it does.

It occurred to me that, yes, she’s right, the best societies are secular societies, but that the best societies are not religion-less societies. Ancient Rome was a religious society but it was pretty “good” (while it lasted), but it also tolerated non Roman religions. As long as you paid your tribute to the emperor, as long as you did your political duty, you were fine and could practice whatever religion you wanted (of course, some Jews and Christians had trouble with this little stipulation, but…). And the Soviet Union was a non-religious society (as much as the political leaders COULD make it so), and it didn’t work very well; it wasn’t that “good.” So the point is that the best societies are probably the ones which do not let any one political or religious ideology take control.

And now… that’s the end of the rambling for today. :) Gotta do some grocery shopping, laundry, and read Cather’s The Professor’s House for the seminar I”m taking on Willa Cather and Charlotte Gilman. And the way Marjorie likes it, I’m curious about it.


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