Monday, May 15, 2017

Religion and "Mending Wall" Thinking: Part One

The kids in the high school in which I teach think it is very, very funny to push the button on their car remotes and make horns beep during class. Then they snicker among themselves as if they have pulled of the most clever -- the most groundbreaking -- of pranks.

My reaction to this is to conjure an obviously fake laugh and to declare -- with painfully evident sarcasm -- how, even after twenty years or teaching high school, this is still funny, peppered in comments about how I can't imagine it ever not being funny and fresh. "Ha, ha, ha!" I intone with the drama of a Puccini tenor... "The car alarm...never, ever gets old..." (At which point the alarms usually shut off and [I could swear this is the case] one or two students seem to turn a little ruddy in the cheeks.)

I can't help feeling the same way when people join the boring chant that condemns "organized religion." I wonder how they can regurgitate the same old cliches as myriad part-time philosophers before them have, and not be embarrassed about it. Yeah, yeah...blah, blah, blah..."organized religion" is awful..."organized religion" causes wars...the world would be better off without "organized religion."

Yep -- it just never gets old. Keep pressing the button...keep making the noise. But how about we really think about this, instead of just chirping the cliches we heard and glommed onto when we were fifteen, as did the fellow in Frost's "Mending Wall":

He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well, 
He says again, "Good Fences make good neighbors."

In the poem, the man insists that fences are necessary, even when  they have no discernible purpose. He insists this because he has been instilled with the idea: "Good fences make good neighbors." No other reason. This is what he was told. 

If a farmer keeps goats next to another farmer who grows crops, a fence is a good -- even a necessary -- idea. But...what if both farmers keep sheep? What if, as in the poem, one one neighbor is "all pine and [the other] apple orchard"? What is the sense of the fence, then? 

So, even as there is some validity to the fact that fences can keep neighbors happy, it does not mean that fences are either universally good or bad. In order to see this, one must actually think things through. But...who wants to work that hard?

With religion, it is easier to look at, for a few examples, The Crusades or at ISIS or at the Inquisition and say: "See! Religion is bad!" These were/are bad things, indisputably. 

But, how about other things? Is organized government bad? Is finding like-minded colleagues bad? Are universities bad? Are all of these things not cradles of the monstrous babies who can grow up into the breakers of worlds and the takers of rights?

Of course not. Religion is just the easier target, because it has become the mantra of the pseudo-intellectual; of the seeker of the ready-made, controversially pre-packaged powerful statement: "Religion is bad..." 

And if we are calling things that cause problems like wars and persecution bad, why don't people call for an end to government? Haven't disputes over borders caused at least as many wars and atrocities as religion? How about money? Money causes wars and cruelty. Why haven't we eliminated money? What about philosophy, in general? Should we call for an end to discussion groups? -- universities?  -- web pages about a particular philosophical premise? -- deep discussions in bars? (Rumor has it, revolutions have begun in bars. And revolutions cause death and suffering...) 

The answer is that they don't call for a ban of these things because the perception is that the benefits of these thing outweigh the problems. In essence, people think that sometimes war is necessary to maintain quality of life; sometimes it is okay to ban immigrants; sometimes it is okay to tell everyone that homosexuality is perfectly normal, or a perfect abomination, depending on the philosophical trends of the time; that it's okay to be filthy rich and not help others...etc... 

But, with religion, we don't seem to want to do this. The hordes of "Mending Wall" philosophers just carry the boilerplate idea into the future: religion is bad. 

Obviously, my point is that this is a foolish generalization. So, as to not bore you with an even longer post, I will do a little question-raising in the next post: Is organized religion really guilty of more bad than good? 

1 comment:

  1. Mao killed nearly 50 million people in the name of "agricultural reform." Communists in Cambodia killed more than two million people. Six to eight million people in the Soviet Union were starved to death by their own government--and so on. When I look back on the 20th century, I can't help but think that most people are missing a staggering lesson on the greater horror of organized atheism.