25 November 2014

Some folk, such as Nathan Schneider, suggest there will be No Revolution Without Religion, but I humbly suggest success does not require religion, per se, whether organized or not. Instead it may be a matter of basing social movements on love. Who was it that said justice is the public face of love ?

But first some acknowledgement of how it's understandable folk think religion itself is required. Yes, religion can involve love and its manifestations: justice, fairness and compassion.

During Occupy DC, activist Bruce Wright reminded me the Bible says a lot more about social justice than it does about the roles of women or homosexuality or other issues that religious conservatives focus on. He is currently camping out in 'Romneyville' with the People's Economic Human Rights Campaign in Tampa as that city hosts the Republican National Convention.

And of course, social movements could no doubt use a type of Christianity more in tune with Liberation Theology and the type of faith found in the Abolition and Black Civil Rights movements.

But suggest those who think religion in and of itself is vital to the success of the Global Justice Movement consider the following.

The focus on love and its public face, justice, is often not the core issue in practice among the majority of Christians or the majority of adherents of other religions. Instead, for many people religion ends up being a deeply grounded context for 'othering.' That can be relatively benign sometimes but malevolent during societal trauma.

People typically don't set out to be intolerant. As far as religious contexts are concerned, it might happen because they are focusing on obedience and belief instead of individual conscience and the pursuit of the truth. Humbly suggest one's relationship with God might actually be a relationship with a dissociated part of one's own mental functioning. That would explain how praying seems to involve intuitive and uncanny 'answers.'

But as for further building social movements, it seems reasonable to assume efforts to address the abuses of global capitalism require global solidarity. In turn, that requires trans-cultural alliances. To find common ground despite our cultural differences, we might be better off to include religion in our movements, but not base those movements on it.

Instead, a better foundation for social movements might be a type of love or goodwill common to all religions but also found among agnostics and atheists. What person who takes to heart the teachings of Christ would shun a movement genuinely based on loving one's neighbor?

But, if we focus on religion, per se, we can end up seeking its logistical advantages at the expense of trans-cultural alliances and at the expense of more sharply and more directly focusing on our core principle: love.

Humbly suggest we be mindful of the fact humans often have used religion to justify intolerance, oppression, and atrocities. Because religion involves striving to embrace certainty and often emphasizes obedience, it may in fact be a net detriment to making the world more just, compassionate, and fair.

That's why agnosticism might have political, and perhaps paradoxically, 'spiritual' relevance. Here the word 'spiritual' is used to denote one's sense of purpose, and not necessarily one's belief in states of being beyond the biochemical functioning of our brains, and not necessarily one's belief in a supernatural, conscious agent that has willed the cosmos into being.

But as for the commonly held view of religion as the best source of morality, well, sure, there was Mother Teresa; MLK Jr; Gandhi; William Lloyd Garrison; priests and nuns who've been extraordinarily courageous champions of human rights; and the list goes on and on.

But, on the other hand, consider the Crusades; the Inquisition; genocide in the New World; sectarian violence in Medieval Europe and in other parts of the world right now; and countless other examples of people using religion to oppress others and to commit extreme brutality. This at least begs the question of whether religion involves a net loss to humankind's capacity for love.

But that doesn't mean religion can't be a constructive part of building the global justice movement, if approached in the right way; that is, if the focus is on love, not dogmatic interpretations of writings believers view as sacred. Yet, when we do that, we might want to ask ourselves what remains of our religious beliefs that differs from those of others.

In other words, when we focus on love and justice, and not religious doctrine, how can we still call ourselves Catholics or even Christians ? Hence, religion has often been and likely will continue to be correlated with social justice movements, yet is not the core ingredient for their success.

Religion has been the main, though not the only way humans have developed morality. But, given our historical track record of religiously framed atrocity and injustice, one might ask if humankind might eventually develop modes of morality that will leave in their wake a less checkered history.

Humbly suggest love is the solution and hatred and indifference are the problems, regardless of whether one arrives at them by way of religion or does so thru atheism or agnosticism.

But I would suggest, against the conventional wisdom, religious worldviews are more prone to hatred and indifference, given their tendency to emphasize obedience and belief over individual conscience and the pursuit of truth.

To use a well-worn saying, necessity might be the mother of invention. Suggest our ecological crisis may contribute to the formation of new forms of 'spirituality' based on recognizing our interdependence with all life on Earth.

Those new forms of 'spirituality' might reject the idea of human dominion over other living beings and perhaps reject the idea of stewardship of the planet as a form of human self-importance, even though it's a more subtle and perhaps more benign one.

New forms of 'spirituality' might be less mystical and more grounded in science and reason, while allowing for the further development of our intuitive and emotional faculties, as well as our sense of wonder. Christianity and other religions involve an unresolved conflict between reason and faith. Suggest ecology movements may lead to new and better forms of 'spirituality.'

In terms of love and its public face, justice, what value is there in believing in virgin births; or someone having to die on a cross for our sins; or in an all-loving, yet somehow jealous god that demands our attention and obedience with the threat of sending us to eternal torment ?

What value is there in believing in karma and caste whereby we seek to explain, if not justify, the suffering of those we perceive as less fortunate than ourselves ?