Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tribalism And Christianity - Continued

The hospital chaplain commented that more people have been killed in the name of Jesus than any other religion. I suppose it's a nice, humble thing that chaplains now are willing to admit error on behalf of their faith rather than reflexively defend all our historical actions, but I have to suspect that she has at least some allegiance to the New Religion of liberalism (there's a Codevilla tie-in there, I suppose). Her comment just before -in reference to a threatened Moslem honor killing - was about how all fundamentalists are dangerous. As we never use the term fundamentalist except to describe either Moslems or Christians, it's a pretty clear message. While she might theoretically think that if some other belief-system was being discussed, and it had an ultra-rigorous branch, she would describe that as fundamentalist and describe that as dangerous also, I think it is safe to conclude that the similar dangerousness of Christian fundamentalists was the point she was trying to make sure I didn't miss. Can't have other Christians going away without being evangelised in the beliefs of the ruling class.

Yet it was the first comment that I went after a bit. I won't recreate the arguments I made then. Suffice it to say that she said she allowed for some validity to my challenge to the her "most-killed" comment, but kept gently reminding me, as one would a child, that the statement was essentially true as stated.

It's just not. It's insane on many levels. But I will keep to a single level, that of tribalism, my favorite prism.

Whatever war you are looking at, you can describe in terms of tribalism and be much more accurate than by referring to any of the other usual culprits: economics, religion, class. The World Wars were not fought over ideas (except perhaps the idea of Prussian superiority, but that would only further prove my point), and certainly not religious ideas, but over tribal land and power. That every nation that goes to war invokes its religion is a given. Sometimes the religion concurs, and when that is Christianity I feel personally shamed and angered. But it's never the cause. Germany did not exempt Jewish converts. Even in the Crusades, which might be thought to be the best example of religious war, the Christians were treated by the Moslems as just one more tribe for potential alliance - and several did ally with them to fight against other Moslems. Even the poor Jews slaughtered by Crusaders along the way were not killed by crusaders in general, but by a few closely-related Germanic tribes.

The Troubles in Ireland aren't fought over consubstantiation or the authority of the Pope. They are historically tribal, with religion simply being one identifier of tribe. As the saying goes, it is a conflict between those who don't go to church and those who don't go to Mass.

Persecution for religious reasons, Christians have to own up to. We have indeed done that, obscuring tribal boundaries for the sake of religious ones. But even then, tribal issues often popped up - and the overall number of dead does not approach wartime dead.

Lest one think I am just trying to get Chrisitans off the hook here, I apply this to other religious groups as well. Moslems may too readily give sanction to religious reasons for war, and speak often of common war against the infidel, but they behave differently in different places. Africa has been beset by war continuously long before Christianity and Islam even existed. In fact, everywhere has been beset by tribal war long before Christianity or Islam existed. Tribal war is the normal state of affairs for mankind. If one regards communism as a religion - I think the case can be fairly made - then we might make accusation against that faith as the greatest religious culprit. (Conservatives sometimes do talk like this.) But Russian expansion existed long before Marx was born. Adding in the socialist angle provides no overwhelming new explanatory power.

There are forces which do seem to hold tribalism in check. Empire is one. The Romans might seem to have been in constant war, but Pax Romana was not a myth. Behind the lines, the empire had relative peace. At the points of conflict, they made war on tribes who had been fighting with each other continually for centuries anyway. It would be hard to prove a net increase in dead humans, especially knowing that early man and current hunter-gatherers had a higher rate of war-death than modern industrial man, even with World Wars and communism. Those low-intensity struggles, punctuated by occasional exterminations of one's neighbors, add up fast.

The British Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the empire that called itself the Soviet Union, all had places and times of internal peace. It might be a peace bought with oppression, but empire works for reducing war.

Confucianism would get some credit on this score. The prevailing value of the community living in peace and harmony did reduce warfare. Like Rome, it did so with brutal conquest of neighbors, but it eventually accomplishes something. Buddhism, not so much. Individual Buddhists are very good at eschewing war, but their inability to prevent injustice, their tolerating any evil, has ultimately been an encouragement to evil and violent men.

So now when we run the list, Christianity actually seems to be the smart kid in the dumb row. We have been pretty inadequate at preventing our various tribes from continuing on in their primitive aggressive violence against neighbors - but not wholly inadequate. It seems otherwise for two prominent reasons, and a host of smaller ones.

1. We advertised that we could do much better, and would do much better. We moved in and called converted those whose king said they were. So long as they went along with our worship, we called them ours, and claimed - even bragged - that we were going to demonstrate sanctity. It may seem faint praise to say we partly succeeded with that kind of extravagant promising, but it's something. The Jews can claim a better record.

2. We kept better records, and especially better records of our own sins. We still have only the vaguest estimates of how many Chinese Christians were killed by the communists, and that was only about 60 years ago. Can any of us name how many were killed in Thailand, or Namibia, or even Poland in the last few hundred years, and what factor religion played in those?


Gringo said...

I recall an online argument w a blogger who made a similar claim. I pointed out all those killed by the atheistic Communists. The reply came back that that didn't count because Communists didn't kill "in the name of atheism," while Christians did kill "in the name of Christianity." From his POV, any Christian nation which went to war in the last 2000 years went to war "in the name of Christianity." Which is absurd, as you point out. As the Commies had a rather active campaign against churches, it can also be argued that they DID kill "in the name of atheism."

Ah, the sophistry of the libs. Almost enough to drive me to become a churchgoer.

Donna B. said...

I think Christianity and Islam get called out as violent and fundamentalist because they are the two religions most often corrupted by those desiring power.

Yes, one could call communism a faith or religion, but in this context, communism distinctly rejected the power of God for the power of the people.

The similarity is the quest for power, not theology. One could make an equally valid argument that democracy is also a religion that pretends worship of the power of the people.

If I can define "fundamentalists" as those who require adherence to any defined requirements for membership in a tribe, I agree that all fundamentalists are dangerous.

Der Hahn said...

As we never use the term fundamentalist except to describe either Moslems or Christians

Only because the favored prejoratives from the left for Jews they don't like are 'Zionist' or 'ultraorthodox'.

jaed said...

That's a good point. Half the time (perhaps more than half), when I hear liberals or progressives talk about "fundamentalism in the Middle East", they either mean Jews, or it's one of those "just a few extremists - on BOTH sides!" statements and the word "fundamentalist" covers all combatants.

Also, five will get you ten that the chaplain has no idea what the word "fundamentalist" actually means. For her, it is most likely a word for "scary Christians whose beliefs I don't like", or "devout Christians", or perhaps "fanatics". Hence its easy extension to other religions.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

terri and retriever's comments earlier in this group of posts reminds me of how regionally different conservatism is in New England. Whenever I hear from Ben on the subject or am actually down there I am reminded "Texas conservatives are not the same as New Hampshire conservatives."

Conservatives in NH tend to either be the business/country club variety, or those employed in very tax-sensitive sectors, such as tourism (hotels & restaurants, for example). Churches are little involved in the issue. That is less true now that we have had so many immigrants from other states, many of whom have gravitated to the independent churches, but the demographic difference is still clear. Conservative simply has a whole different feel up here.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Donna, that seems to be a too-narrow definition of religion for my taste. If people move in and say "We're taking out all these religions. We're replacing it with this," then it's surpassingly likely to be a religion. That is what we would say if they were replacing schools with something, or government with something, or the military with something. We would just say, "oh, that's just how we do school now." That it didn't have blackboards, or a principal, or recess we would consider beside the point.

See, for example The God That Failed, written over 60 years ago. Those ex-communists described their previous faith in communism as exactly like a religion.

Donna B. said...

AVI, the point I intended to make is that any political system can be pushed the same way you describe communists doing it.

Do you not notice how the current progressives misuse "democracy" and the "will of the people"?

It was "fundamentalism" I was defining as applied to beliefs in other things or entities as well as God.

terri said...

terri and retriever's comments earlier in this group of posts reminds me of how regionally different conservatism is in New England. Whenever I hear from Ben on the subject or am actually down there I am reminded "Texas conservatives are not the same as New Hampshire conservatives."

Yes. Absolutely. Actually I think that sometimes that's why I so often fall into the nay-sayer group when reading something like Codevilla's piece.

I think that you and Retriever are in a region in which liberals are more ubiquitous....so all the crazy things they say and do seem so staggeringly accepted as the norm.

I come from the opposite side of things. I converted to Christianity right before I turned 17, became a very enthusiastic Republican, went to a Southern Baptist liberal arts college....in the middle of the bible belt.

So..I know conservatives, specifically religiously motivated conservatives. Being in an evangelical college in an election year, 1992, naturally exposed me to Rush Limbaugh, AFA, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell...you name it. If they belonged to the Religious RIght I'd heard of them, and seen their ideas and thoughts absorbed by everyone around me...heck I even absorbed some of those ideas myself.

I probably spouted most of their talking points in my own political conversations.

When you called me an "unpromoted foot soldier" in the original post, it made me laugh.....because for a long time I was Sarah Palin-y before there was a Sarah Palin.

Eventually, I realized that it just didn't fit me. There was too much nastiness mixed up with the religious right/conservative movement I knew, and I started to see some issues through different eyes.

I see myself as an Independent now, but I am still a registered Republican because Independents are not allowed to vote in Florida primaries.

I know that Codeville contends that the "ruling class" is made up of Democrats and Republicans, but he spent an awful lot of time hitting all the typical, culture war, conservative talking points I have heard since I first voted in 1992--marriage penalty, under-age abortions, arresting praying students, the global warming "hoax", etc., etc.

So, for me, there was little that was new in the American Spectator piece....because I have been hearing it for almost 20 years already.

You know liberals so well because you used to be one and swam in those waters. I know conservatives because I used to be a committed one, and I know those waters as well...at least the ones that are below the Mason-Dixon line.

Now...none of that had anything to do with this post! :-)

I agree that the old trope that more people have been killed in the name of God is simply flat-out wrong. There have been religious wars...but most wars are based on power, greed, economics, tribes..etc.

terri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Assistant Village Idiot said...

Actually, I feel your pain on that, terri. My sons went to Baptist schools, and I encountered many who were as you describe - including the school itself. It was ---- no, this needs its own post.