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As a species homo sapiens sapiens has been prone to get its lines crossed and its ideas in a tangle. We have a modus operandi: what we still need is a modus vivendi (peaceful coexistence).
We have four main areas of thought and activity:
1 Religion: relationship (or not) to god;
2 Politics: balance of power;
3 Business: pursuit of gain; and
4 Culture: reflections on experience.
We can’t keep these modes separate, and the mix is often a violent one. The right hand never knows what the left hand is up to. Here are some examples.
Hindus and Muslims have been clashing in India for at least the last 200 years. Often, in a crowded country, religious festivals collide and spark the violence.
In March 2002 in Gujarat over 1,000 people were killed and 3,000 injured after Muslims fired a train of Hindu pilgrims. In Bhagalpur Bihar in May 1987 over 1,000 people were killed and many more injured when a Hindu procession passed through a Moslem district.
At Partition in 1947, when disorganised crowds of almost 15 million people attempted to relocate to Muslim Pakistan or Hindu India, one million were massacred and robbed in conflicts between the two faiths.
Whatever the cause of the conflict between religions, it clearly has never been resolved. I think because of a confusion between religion and politics.
In the ironically named USA violence has been erupting for 200 years between people of European descent and those of African descent, whose ancestors had been kidnapped and bought to America as slaves but subsequently granted equal rights under the US Constitution.
On 02 December 2016 Ronald Gasser shot and killed Joe McKnight in New Orleans Louisiana after a dispute over a traffic incident. McKnight was unarmed. Police initially released Gasser without preferring charges, claiming the shooting was done in self defence and so legal. Gasser was a white man, McKnight a black man.
In Baltimore Maryland February 1963 a drunken man at a hotel, William Zantzinger, hit a waitress named Hattie Carroll. The blow led to a stroke and the woman’s death later the same day. Zantzinger was charged with murder, then manslaughter, and received a six month sentence. He was released on bail. Zantzinger was a white man, Carroll a black woman. Bob Dylan wrote a song about it.
Whatever the cause of the conflict between races, it clearly has never been resolved. I think because of a confusion between politics and Old Testament inspired ‘religion’ (the OT is violently racist in some parts).
Do our brains really process data in just four categories? Look at some subsidiary divisions of the modes.
Sooner or later we realise we’re going to die. How can we know about our own death? It’s probably unique among species and in a way unnatural. So we conceived an all powerful god with a purpose for us. From this come all that relates us to god: self, personality, revelation, mysticism, atheism, agnosticism, faith, morality, rewards, punishments, charity, prayer, adoration, holiness, asceticism, good works.
Politics is everything that determines order in society. We must engage in it; the alternative is anarchy. So we have all that relates us to each other: class, caste, love, sex, marriage, affluence, education, memberships, church, political parties, war, empire, games, anarchy, violence, manipulation, propaganda.
Death is not a comforting thought. We strive to gain a sense of relief from our end by proving ourselves, and enlarging our stock. These are activities that we think add to what we are: consumption, wealth, property, family, competition, office, bargaining, corruption, exploitation, theft, insurance, negotiation, alliances and deceit.
Culture is a way of standing back from our activities and evaluating them. We love to dramatise and exaggerate ourselves and the plight we get ourselves into and sometimes the exercise teaches us a little bit of wisdom. These activities give us perspective. We have prophets, artists, divinely written books, commandments, drama and other arts, religious festivals, psychodrama, therapy, neuroses, gossip and melodrama.
Some will dispute the heading under which I place some activities. That’s my point. We are both confused as to the nature of what we do; and misled by some who put a false label on what they purport to be doing.
One of the biggest sources of trouble we have is when we mix religion and politics. They have nothing whatsoever to do wth one another, and we’ve never understood that. Millions have died in jihads and crusades, and millions more suffered under religious censure, inquisitions, forced conversions and censorship. What for? To prove to someone unknown that one ‘god’ is better than another one. The real reason is to enlarge a nation’s or an individual’s power.
The greatness of god is shown by the life you lead, not by the lives you take. We can’t seem to understand that, even though prophets and religious teachers have been telling us for centuries.
The suggestion that we practise either religion or politics, not a blend of the two, may seem simple minded or naive. But do we really need the fear and domination model of international relations we have lived with so long? Or the moronic persecution of others with different religious beliefs and rituals?
In the second millennium BC Aryans from central Europe moved south, to northern Greece, Iran and northern India, where we know them as Achaeans, Medes and Persians, and Indians of the Vedic culture. All bought their religions, and practised syncretism with those of the peoples they conquered. Once settled, they found, further to the south, semitic peoples with a very different attitude to religion. (‘Aryan’ and ’Semitic’ are terms used by linguists, not so called ‘races’).
The idea that your god had an equivalent in other people’s religion, or the astounding merger of many religions that was Hinduism, including both polytheism and monotheism simultaneously, was met by the idea that there was only one god. This was challenging.
The desert peoples saw things in black and white. Their gods, like the Hebrew YHWH, were essentially politicians, not religious figures. YHWH was more powerful than the gods of the Canaanites and helped the Hebrews defeat them and wipe them out. This was a primitive tribal belief still found in some Islamic sects. War in the name of a god is not, and never has been, religion. It’s politics and should be treated as such.
Political leaders have always used religion as a pretence to excuse their conquests.
About 200 years after the death of Moshe (Moses) in 1270 (traditional date), the prophet Samuel and the Israelites’ first King, Saul (1080-1012 BC) persuaded the people that it was god’s will they conquer many Middle Eastern tribal groups such as the Ammonites and the Philistines. These battles created a nation, one intolerant of others’ beliefs. Saul was finally defeated but by then he had laid the foundations for the kingdom of David and Solomon, later crushed by the Babylonians.
Curosh (Cyrus the Great), 600-530 BC, conquered the Iranian plateau, parts of Greece, the Fertile Crescent and parts of India, all in the name of Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom, whose symbol was the fire altar. His propaganda spread the idea that one god meant one ruler and one empire. Although Cyrus relied on the religion of the reformer Zarathustra (650-600 BC) to justify his conquests, he gave the conquered peoples of his empire considerable autonomy, local men made governors of provinces and local religions tolerated.
Abu Bakr 573-634 AD, the first successor (Caliph) to Muhammad, was one of the great generals of history, who created an Arab empire in the midst of the quarrels of the declining powers of his time, Persia and Byzantine. What unified the Arabs was the enormous prestige of Muhammad (570-632 AD) and his teachings, and Abu Bakr utilised this to create an Islamic empire, who otherwise would have remained a people warring among themselves for tribal prestige.
The history of Europe is virtually the history of the rise and fall of the Papacy as a temporal power, from 476 AD when the Goths conquered the western Roman Empire, to 1870 AD when the King of Italy ended the reign of the Pope over the Papal States and made Italy a nation. In its heyday the Papacy claimed sovereignty over all other earthly kingdoms and states and rigidly enforced orthodoxy on all Europeans.
Empire building, whether in Canaan, Iran, Arabia or Rome, or anywhere else, is a political act, not a spiritual one. Did not one follower ask why god’s only requirements were acts of violence resulting in gains for his leaders? Looking at it in a positive way, this confusion between spirituality and politics culled millions of people from the human race who otherwise would have starved or died of disease. All the empires that used religion to consolidate themselves have vanished.
Our other areas of activity are confused as well. Not only do we mix religion and politics; but also business and politics, and spread destruction with the blend where a more straightforward approach would have been, if less advantageous, also less harmful.
Take the 20th century colonial exploitation of South America by the USA. Military dictatorships were imposed by the USA in many South American countries, including: the Dominican Republic between 1916-1941; Haiti 1915-30; Guatemala in the 1950s through to the 90s; Brazil in 1964; Chile in the 70s; Argentina from 1976, to mention a few cases.
These ostensibly politically motivated interventions, mostly in the Cold War fight against Communism, resulted in massive profits for US and multinational companies, and political and economic instability in most of South America. Dubious concepts were put forward, such as the military imposition of ‘democracy’ against the wishes of the people; and ‘modernisation’ of industry involving American capital investment and business superstructure, exhaustion of natural resources and state bankruptcies; and the ‘necessary’ murder of millions of South Americans.
Then there’s the union of religion with business. This has been justified by the fact that churches engage in ‘good works’, and need money to operate. As church accounting is secret, not much accurate information is available.
Perhaps the most prominent church to combine business with religion (other than the Catholic Church) is that of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (LDS). Their history has made them both a remarkably cohesive body, and one focused on accumulation of capital since the time of founder Joseph Smith. In 2012 Reuters published an estimate “that the LDS Church is likely worth $40 billion today and collects up to $8 billion in tithing each year”. (Caroline Winter on Bloomberg 19 Jul 2012). Fortune’s Global 500 for 2016 (which of course doesn’t include churches) lists Coca-Cola as 206 with $44 billion, Christian Dior as 228 with $41 billion, and American Airlines as 236 with $40 billion. LDS slots in somewhere near these companies, pretty good for a church (as far as we know).
LDS have some peculiar beliefs which make them as weird as Scientologists, but they instil moral behaviour and do genuinely encourage good works among members. The worry here is that they see business as a religious activity, proof if successful of the love of god for the wealthy. While waiting till you die to be rewarded, as taught by other churches, has issues as a spiritual doctrine, the LDS approach seems to veer the other way. Mixing modes always leads to confusion, and that holds us back and prevents progress in each one.
It might seem faddish or downright peculiar to talk about four modes of activity the human species have and how we continually mix them up. But humans have an appalling record in successfully accomplishing any of them. We can’t practice religion without killing other people; we can’t organise our societies without ruining other peoples’; and the concept of practising religion or art purely for profit seems a misguided waste of effort.
I think we need to focus. Achieving wellness in self and positive support for others is a good aim in the practise of religion; stability and safety are essential aims in business, which should never let the profit motive dominate as we let it; and much the same is true for politics, where we need room for divergent opinions and practices to be tried and tolerated without paranoia. Art must be based on genuine experience, not stereotypes, if it is to teach us.
Religion, politics, business, art. These define humanity. No other species knows what they mean. We’ve learnt that dominating others, and unlimited self indulgence, doesn’t help us much. Now we must adapt or perish.
©2017 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.