Violence of Religion

           Cavanaugh’s article “The Violence of ‘Religion’: Examining a Prevalent Myth” gives an interesting definition of religion which he then goes throughout the paper to criticize. He also writes a critique of the secular liberal view that “religion is violent,” which, before reading this article, I had never thought about. The article gave me a new perspective which I will discuss throughout this paper.

            Cavanaugh begins his article stating “one of the most prevalent myths in Western culture” that widespread religion causes violence, or is at least a significant contributing factor in many conflicts of human history. At the end of his long list of ‘violence done by religions’ he says that the definition of “religion” isn’t clear. He says that “religion and culture” often get grouped together but are never distinguished from one another. He goes on to admit that there are numerous religions which support that violence is helpful and necessary but the attempt to divide them into “religion” and “secular” phenomena and claim that the former is more prone to violence isn’t helpful.

            I think the definition of religion that’s being criticized, that religion and culture have become indistinguishable from one another makes sense and there are many examples of it in daily life. For example, when people in the west talk about the middle east, we tend to call the people there “Muslims.” We don’t call them “Iraqi’s” or  “Afghan’s,” which would indicate their culture and where they’re from. Instead, we identify them only as their religion.

            That leads into Cavanaugh’s  main critique of the secular liberal view that religion is violent. On page 7 Cavanaugh says that he’s trying to separate out a category called “religion” which is prone to violence because it’s absolutist, divisive, and non-rational, compared to a ‘secular’ reality that’s less prone to violence, presumably because it’s less absolutist, more unitive, and more rational. He goes on to give a list of ideologies, practices, and institutions that have been known to support violence under certain conditions but says this, which I found to be the most important line in his article thus far: “what is not helpful is the attempt to divide the above list into ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ phenomena, and claim that the former are more prone to violence.”

            I somewhat agree with Cavanaugh’s argument that religion causes violence because it delegitimizes certain kinds of violence (namely Muslim) and legitimates other kinds of violence (namely, secular western ideals). I do agree that certain cultures are delegitimized and I do agree that others are legitimized, but I don’t agree that it’s mainly secular ideals that cause ‘violence in religion.’ Actually, I believe the problem is between non-secular westerners and non-secular non-westerners.

            If we’re going to argue that Muslim’s “haven’t learned to privatize matters of faith” we should also argue that non-secular western culture hasn’t, either. Cavanaugh states that Muslim culture, for example, is absolutist, divisive and irrational, whereas western culture is modest in its claims to truth, unitive, and rational. I don’t agree with this.

            Westerners have a skewed view of Muslim’s. Because of the terrorist attacks and our media portraying Muslim’s badly, we lump all people of the Muslim faith as extremists (and even terrorists). For this reason I don’t think it’s fair to say that Muslim cultures haven’t learned to privatize matters of faith or to call them irrational. If we apply the same standards to a non-secular western culture, for example, Christians, they can also be called irrational and be accused of not knowing to privatize matters of faith.

            To illustrate my point I’ll use the example of anti-abortionists. In the United States there is an underground terrorist organization called the Army of God. It has been responsible for a substantial amount of anti-abortion violence. In addition to numerous property crimes, the group has also committed acts of kidnapping, attempted murder, and actual murder. Law enforcement officials have found the Army of God Manual, which is a tactical guilde to arson, chemical attacks, invasions, and bombings. This group is clearly a non-secular monotheistic terrorist group, so why don’t we view all non-secular monotheists as terrorists (as we do Muslims)?

            To summarize, I do agree with Cavanaugh that religion oftentimes gets confused with culture and that the two are intertwined. I also do agree that some religious violence is deemed acceptable, whereas other religious violence is delegitimized. The point I do not agree with is that it’s the secular western groups causing the problems. I believe the “clash of religion” or “culture wars” are caused both in part by non-secular western groups as well as non-secular non-western groups.

            Going back to Cavanaugh’s critique of the secular liberal view that religion is violent, I do agree. I believe the majority of secularists view certain groups in certain religions to be violent or the cause of violence in the past but I don’t agree that secular liberals think religion as a whole is violent. I’m certain there are some ignorant secular liberals that do believe that all religion is bad because it causes violence but I don’t believe it does. Muslim’s view suicide bombers in their religion the same way we view the members of the Westboro Baptist Church; that is, every religion has extremists but as a whole they aren’t violent or necessarily “bad.” 

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Together We’re Invincible

It was nearing the second hour I’d been standing in line. I was one of the lucky people who had a spot indoors. It was one of those frigid days nobody wants by the time March rolls around, but you aren’t surprised when it does because we’re in Michigan. I had already done my fair share of people watching (concerts are the best place to do this. Wal-Mart is the second runner up.) There were three very tall, average-looking men standing in front of me who couldn’t have been older than 25. From what I could hear they drove in from New York just to attend this concert. They seemed like nice enough men, would be pretty decent body guards, but I really hoped they wouldn’t be standing in front of me. I was caught by surprise when a security guard shouted that the gates were about to open, and that everyone with floor tickets would have to find the table with wristbands before they could go into the pit. No sooner had he finished his sentence that the gates open and people started running.

I had been to the Palace of Auburn Hills before, but this was my first concert at the arena. I hadn’t expected that people would start running, nor did I have any idea where they were running to, but I decided in the moment that the safest bet was to follow the three large men that had been standing in front of me. Even if they didn’t know where they were going they would definitely keep people from trampling me to death. They did know where they were going, though, because they led me to a large table set up in the middle of the walkway. I sheepishly handed my ticket over to the woman standing behind the table and in return she gave me a two-page piece of paper. She must have noticed the confused look I had because she laughed and said “it’s a waiver, dear, you’re in the pit and anything could happen.” If I wasn’t nervous before, this is where they set in. I had been to Warped tour before and I swore that was the last time I’d ever get stuck in any crazy pits. I assumed I wouldn’t have that issue at a Muse concert, but signing off the waiver and getting my wristband made me doubt my decision to get floor tickets.
By the time I made it down to the floor it was pretty tightly packed despite the concert not starting for another two hours. I managed to weave my way across the floor to the right side of the stage but once I got there I had nowhere to go. I stood off to the side by myself trying to think of the best way to get to the barrier. A sudden hand on my shoulder snapped me away from my scheming. “Hey, you’re the girl that was behind us the whole time in line, right? My group has some room on the barrier and you could totally fit…unless you want to stay in the middle of the pit.” I was so caught off guard that I couldn’t think of any response other than a massive grin and a squeaky “thanks.” I followed him to the front of the crowd and claimed my spot next to him on the barrier. It was the happiest I had been in a long time and the concert hadn’t even begun.

“So, why are you a Muse fan?” he asked, catching me off guard for what seemed like the billionth time that night. Many people would probably answer “because I like their music” or “because Matt, Dom and Chris are really attractive.”Both of which are extremely accurate but neither are the main reason I’m a fan. I knew the answer to this question was going to take a while, and from my hesitation I’m sure he realized this, too.
If you would have told me more than five years ago that a band consisting of three British men in their mid-thirties would be one of the most important and influential things in my life I would have laughed in disbelief and thought you were somewhat crazy. Nobody can feel so strongly or attached to people that just make music and don’t even know you exist, right? I would have been very, very wrong. You see, when you go through difficult things in life you tend to become attached to the person or thing that helps get you through them.

I started listening to Muse after escaping an abusive relationship, and while I did have people helping me through the repercussions, the music Muse created was the only constant I had. This was the first band I’d found that had a song catering to any emotion I was possibly feeling at any given time and the first band that I could relate to. Whenever I was depressed, angry, or in the middle of an anxiety attack all I needed to do was turn on a Muse album and it was able to calm me down. They were also the band that cured my loneliness. I’ve always been a quirky person, with a love for conspiracy theories and deep space exploration, neither of which are ideal when searching for friends with mutual interests. There were three British men that shared these mutual interests with me, though, so when I was lonely I’d watch interviews. Sometimes they’d make me laugh, sometimes they’d make me cry, but they were always there to cure my loneliness and make me feel less ashamed of my interests.
I was snapped out of my thought process when the lights dimmed and the band went on stage. Hands holding cameras and cell phones shot up and everyone went crazy. They began playing their song “Invincible” (the song that bears the most meaning to me because of the moving lyrics) and I felt like I had run into a brick wall. I instantly began crying. With tears streaming down my face I looked behind me and saw I wasn’t the only one with tears in my eyes and that’s when it hit me.
Being in the front of the crowd, surrounded by thousands people, I realized that I wasn’t alone in my strong feelings towards them (read: obsession). I realized that they mean much more than that to many others. I realized that sometimes, three British men and the music they create can make more of an impact on your life than they, or you, know. I turned to the man standing next to me and said “I’m a fan because they saved my life.” He looked at me, tears in his eyes, too, and nodded. I knew he understood.