Monday, December 17, 2007

Religion as Agent of the Powerless

All religions preach nonviolence. Every essential text, from the bible to the qu'ran preaches a nonviolent approach to life. Additionally, the idea of nonviolence is essential to the teachings of all religions. Hence, we today consider it simply natural that people shouldn't be violent because we were all brought up (rightly) being taught that violence is wrong and immoral. But we never question why is it natural that we should be so "naturally" against violence.

The answer comes from religion, and the origins of religion's anti-violence stance can be analyzed historically. During their early years, each major religion was a minority in the society in which it was created. As such, it was persecuted by the group in power. Each religion, consisting of a relatively small group of followers, could not advocate violence, because it would easily be crushed by the group in power. So nonviolence became the only manner in which a newly-founded religion could survive in the ancient world.

The key change occurs when that religion goes from being the persecuted minority to the religion of the those in power. The powerful members of that religion have to then re-adjust the interpretation of the basic nonviolent foundations of that religion. So religion becomes an excuse for violence. However, it is important to understand that it wasn't religion that caused the violence, it was the position of power. Religion does not necessarily promote violence-the attempt to either gain or solidify power does.

As we saw last week, religion is often used by powerful people to retain their power by violent means. However, religion certainly be used by those without power in a nonviolent manner to achieve social justice. People like Martin Luther, Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama are terrific examples of that...


ndemirjian said...

When i read this the question of whether or not religion is just and moral came to mind. If at first high ranking religious figures preach nonviolence to gain politcal power and then turn around and use violence (Crusades, Jihads, ect.) to retain their power and expand it, then are religions and religious preaches good and moral? Obviously not religious are "evil politcal masterminds" but I can't help but think after the recent readings that the basis of almost all religions came from people seeking politcal power in the growing world.

Mr. Moran said...

I think its important to also consider that religion stems from people attempting to make sense of the world around them. Remember, religion is the way people construct reality-if the reality is such that you are being persecuted, then your religion is going to include an answer to that persecution, as that is your reality. Yes, political power plays a role in this. But it is more important that we understand that first and foremost, religion is something people have used throughout history to make sense of things.

lalalalalalallala said...

When I read this post, something else came to mind. Mr. Moran said that emerging religions preached non-violence in order to survive and attract people. Immediately when I heard this I considered what would have happened if an emerging religion preached that women were superior than men, instead of men being above women in the social status and I came up with two ideas:

1) If a religion that worshiped women was preached in, let's say, a Catholic society, all followers would be killed. A lot of women would be killed too because they would be looked at as conspirators , and vile creatures that are trying to take power from God's blessed being- man.

2)If a religion that worshiped women was preached in a Polytheistic society, then I think it would be accepted, since it already has happened: goddesses have been worshiped through history, such as Aphrodite, Freya, Athena, and Hel.

I brought this point up because its an interesting comparison, at least in my opinion.

This is andres ramirez, and im just sayin.

cmower said...

When I read this, the first thing that came to my mind was that yes, all religons preach non-violence. But, there are also many battles and wars fought out having to do with many things, which also includes religion. I am raising this point because I think it's a little funny/odd in a way that some wars are fought about someones beliefs and religions, when originally they preach to have no violence.

urbanyouth704 said...

I believe that when religious figures preach none violence they are preaching it as in ones everyday life such as not using violence to solve anything or don't commit violence unless one has a very important reason to do so but when it comes to a religious war such as the crusades or a Jihad all the rules of practicing none violence go out the door and its just one religion against another in a battle for power. The religious figures who once preaching none violence are now preaching bout how bad the other religion is and doesn't even mention none violence and no one questions it because they believe what the religious figure is saying is true and that if god believes in the religious figure then why question his words.

Alex Rachlin said...

The main thing we talked about in class I remember is that every religion might preach nonviolence, but it ends up that there is chaos everywhere. Sure leaders can talk the talk, but they never walk the walk. I know how silly that may sound, but, like Nick said, different figures preach nonviolence for what is "better". The result ends up being Crusades or Jihads and more. I feel it is impossible, in the world we live in today, to fight for something verbally without getting physical. Look at the Middle East: there have been many talker, but the result is people fighting and protesting for what they believe is right.

turrets said...

also it depends on how people and religious leaders interpret 'nonviolence'. in period D we were talking about how in the Sharia there is no set justice system, and it leads to very different interpretations of the law. its the same thing with nonviolence. some people take nonviolence really seriously, and apply it to every aspect of their life (gandhi) and some people aren't violent unless they feel the need to be (especially for religious reasons, because they feel they are defending their religion and it makes the violence right.)
it gets really complicated when one is getting the nonviolence messages from a religious text, because there are contridicting passages and everything is open to personal interpretation.