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Re: Restored: "Ch. 5 - The Maya Collapses."
Quote:To my mind, both Islam and Christianity have too long and varied a history to conform to the criteria of my question. Neither can really be nailed down to a particular political aim
What about simple domination? Can one deny that the spread of Christianity is a form of control by numbers. The active attempts to indoctrinate and convert any and all peoples is a very telling sign of control on a large scale.
I would say this about Islam as well, but not Judaism.
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Re: Restored: "Ch. 5 - The Maya Collapses."
misterpessimistic: What about simple domination? Can one deny that the spread of Christianity is a form of control by numbers.
That depends largely on the time and place, and interpretation is often required of anyone studying the historical events. For example, the spread of Christianity into Spain during the 15th century was certainly a matter of armed conflict, and the subsequent suppression and extermination of Islam and, to a lesser extent, Judaism, is certainly a matter of domination. To some degree, that example conforms to your model, and all that is left to sort out are the political motives that are, in some particular, distinct from the religious motives even when the two seem entirely complicit.
Moving backwards a bit, the scenario is complicated during the Crusades by the relationship of religion to the political perview. The confounding fact of the matter is that there was no possible military conflict during the early to high Middle Ages that could not involve the clergy for the simple fact that chivalry had been Christianized during the tenth century -- from the tenth century onward, there were no secular militaries to speak of in all of Europe. The reason for this is that the advent of chivalric culture during the early Middle Ages had precipitated a period of rather overt barbarism, and the church had sought to protect the citizenry by formalizing knighthood. This, in fact, may be seen as the first step towards Christianity as a form of social control, but it was in this instance an entirely necessary measure from the viewpoint of preventing abuses of power and paving the way for a less oppressive society. If you think medieval feudalism is the very model of barbarism, then imagine the same social situation without a code of conduct to prevent the knighthood from killing the poor -- such protections are precisely what church involvement ensured. In the short term, therefore, the intersection of faith and military-political power was a Very Good Thing. But in relatively short order the conflation of the church with the knighthood was such that you could not justify a military conquest without some sort of appeal to religious sentiment. For that reason, it's difficult to sort out what part of the Crusades was fought for explicit religious regions and what part was fought for political and economic gain -- after all, the Holy Land was, at that time, a haven of trade and innovation.
Beyond those two obvious examples, there are plenty of less obvious examples where Christianity was spread through neither conquest not social pressure, but rather was taken up voluntarily by those who found some social or spiritual advantage in the new faith. And, of course, this could not but have been so: Christianity started out as a minority religion. For it to have survived the period where it was the focus of suppression and conquest it must have have also spread through means that in no way entailed social control.
Stepping back from Christianity for a moment, we can imagine how difficult it must be to find any religion that started off in an atmosphere of power sufficient to assure its dominance from without. How could any religious tradition that starts from the grass roots level enforce itself on the unwilling? Hypothetically speaking, the only religious traditions that could sustain a history of continuous dominance would have to have been created as a form of social control. They would have to have been devised by those already in power, and the power of its creators would have to be sufficient to impose the religion on any potential dissenters in the society. Christianity and Islam may have been in that position during isolated episodes in its history, but they cannot have continuously played the role of social mold since both began with individuals of dubious political influence.
So the best that we can say with Islam and Christianity is that they have, at points in their history, changed or developed in ways that resemble the axiom that religion is a form of social control. We cannot say that they are first and foremost forms of social control without repositioning that term to means something less than what has been implied by Marx and others (Freud, Durkheim, etc).
Mad, I see your point and will try to answer your question more fully.
The association of theocracy with social control is acceptable, but Islam is not universally characterized by theocracy. To my mind, it's perfectly legitimate to oppose theocracy without extending that opposition to a religion as a whole, or to religion in general. First of all I don't oppose religion and I don't oppose Islam, but I do oppose Islam's tendency towards theocracy. I do think that you have to look at this example because where there is smoke there is fire. It is not a coincidence that Islam has so many theocracies. I think that it demonstrates that there is something in the fundamental beliefs of Islam that lend itself to a theocratic government. Unfortunately, my islamic knowledge is limited and I can't hazard a guess what that might be.
What interests me is the claim that religions are first and foremost a form of social control, and not as an incidental effect but as its modus operandi. I do not agree that religions are first and foremost a form of social control, but I do think that it is one of the main reasons that religions developed. I also do not think that religion as a form of social control is a bad thing (although you could make a very strong arguement that our society has developed to the point that we do not need a religously based form of social control). To function effectively a civilization needs a set of rules. Man is by nature pretty selfish and needs some motivation to play well with others. One motivation to prevent people from doing whatever they want then forming a religion which dictates the rules of the society. Most religous dictates are what makes a society function better or promote sanitation. (ie prohibition against unjustified murder, kosher rules, burial rituals) But I also feel that religion, even very early on, has other purposes like promoting a sense of community and connectedness to somthing bigger than yourself and explaining the mysterious.
Just because Islam and Christianity have been around for a long time does not make them exempt from this if you trace them back to their roots. Christianity united a heterogenous group of pagens spread throughout Europe into a cohesive group that followed one God. Islam did the same to a heterogenous group of semi nomadic people in the Middle East. Even though Jews were scattered throughout the known world, they still retained a connection to their homeland and to the social dictates that united them. Considering the number of religions that began with revolutionary content, I would say that there's a strong argument against the idea that religion routinely substantiates the status quo. Many religous groups have a revolutionary factor, but they revolt only to replace the previous status quo with their own. Europeans traveled to the New World to revolt against Catholicism only to set up a society based on Puritan/Prodestant ideals.
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theocracy, origins, symbols
Depster1978: I do think that you have to look at this example because where there is smoke there is fire. It is not a coincidence that Islam has so many theocracies.
In a general way that's certainly true, but situations tend to be so complex as to give lie to the simplicity of a truism like "where there is smoke there is fire." To say that Islamic nations tend towards theocracy presents something like a direct correlation where there may be other factors that predominate. Social and political factors, not to mention historical factors, tend to play as large a role. It may be that the theocratic nations are capitalizing on some feature of Islam rather than that Islam tends to create theocracy. One way to test that supposition might be to look at the character of the nations neighboring Islamic theocracies. If they tend towards authoritarian or totalitarian forms of governance then we may justly suspect that there is some other social or cultural factor in the region which tends to produce oppressive governments, of which theocracy is merely a variation and not a deviation.
At the moment, it looks as though neither one of us is really qualified to say one way or the other. I'm merely recommending the more cautious line of reasoning. I'm making a library trip later on in the week -- if I think about it, I'll try to dig up some research on the matter.
I do not agree that religions are first and foremost a form of social control, but I do think that it is one of the main reasons that religions developed.
Well, we can attempt to address that claim, but the origins of religion are so obscure that it would be fairly hard to substantiate. You might take a look at my thread on Giambattista Vico in the philosophy forum. Maybe we can attempt to trace of few potential lines of development using Vico's program of reconstructive imagination. I'd be interested to see how a theory of religion as a form of social control plays out.
I also do not think that religion as a form of social control is a bad thing (although you could make a very strong arguement that our society has developed to the point that we do not need a religously based form of social control).
In reading Paul Tillich, I've come across the idea -- and I'm not sure if it is an explicit tenant of Tillich's thought or an idea I've extracted and developed on my own -- that the primary contribution of religion to the whole of a society is that of a unitary symbolic system that can serve as a centralizing force. To make what I'm trying to say more clear, you can compare our current society with that of Medieval Christendom. Take as a whole, our modern society is startingly fragmentary, so much so that many of the political, cultural and moral debates of our time seem irresolvable for the simple reason that the opposing sides have so little in common that even their use of similar terminology seems incompatable. By comparison, Europe during the Middle Ages was far more cohesive because most, if not all, of the social, cultural, political and moral symbols and terms were, or at least could be, arranged around the central symbols of the church. To confirm that impression, you need only look at the medieval bestiaries, medieval cosmological texts, or studies of medieval art and culture like Emile Mole's "The Gothic Image" or C.S. Lewis' "The Discarded Image". If our culture has any central symbol around which to arrange the entire skein of social, cultural, political and moral symbols, it is likely that of Progress, but it is so loosely circumscribed that we remain primarily fragmented and somewhat isolated despite our increased technical capacity for communication. (Incidentally, Vico charts this as a characteristic of the final phase in the life cycle of a civilization.)
But I also feel that religion, even very early on, has other purposes like promoting a sense of community and connectedness to somthing bigger than yourself and explaining the mysterious.
The question that to me seems important in all of this is that of whether these are characteristics basic and central to religion or if religion doesn't perhaps serve a more basic need.
The remains of a royal massacre uncovered at an abandoned Maya city are providing clues to the ancient mystery of why that civilization collapsed 1,200 years ago, according to a team of archaeologists.
While years of unrelenting drought have long been thought to play a major role, the dismembered bodies are fresh proof that the Maya did not go gentle into that good night.
The skeletal remains and finery of the Maya nobles
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