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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Statement on Religion and Violence

Cultures are make-believe worlds. Cultures are useful fictions founded on myths that give meaning to human enterprises. The mythic foundation of meaning with its shared stories and rituals is religion. Religion, therefore, is the dimension of all cultures and their imagined orders that gives them meaning. [There is an experiential psychological component of religion, e.g. sense of transcendence, and a bureaucratic institutional component of religion; but I pass on that here.]

Cultures arrived when humans began to use their evolved ability to imagine and fashion symbolic forms to deal with their environments. By sharing these forms through language, art, and science, humans are able to cooperate with one another in tribes, civilizations, and nations in order to meet their needs for biological life (economy) and for associative power (politics). 

Conflict, including force and violence, is the result of one social order in competition with another for livelihood and power. Culture including religion, art, and science rationalizes the force and violence by imaging the other social order as inhuman, and a danger to the human way of life and association.

Religion, therefore, is always connected through culture to both cooperation and conflict. Religion is intricately connected to a tribe’s or a nation’s economic and political order. When times and spaces change, humans change their imagined order. But the only way out of one imagined order is by building another.


My personal hope is that we humans in our coming postmodern world can together create an imaginative global order, respecting the diverse cultures of our premodern and modern worlds, while building in the possibility of continued self-critique, revision, and transcendence. I think this can only happen by contact between persons, communities, and cultures where and when we can participate the others' stories and feel their sufferings.

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