Tag Archives: Religion

The Battle for India’s Founding Ideals

By Madhav Khosla – These events come after much of India has been engulfed in protests over a new citizenship law that treats Muslims differently to those from other religions. These protests, which have seen tens of thousands march across the nation, began in universities. The government’s reaction was swift and brutal. It encompassed both prohibitory measures, such as Internet shutdowns and the prevention of public assembly, as well as reactive measures, which included detention and violence. In Uttar Pradesh, a state which is home to more Indians than any other, the tales of police brutality would send a shiver down any spine.

Sunday’s attack underscores two crucial changes taking place in the world’s largest democracy. The first is to the country’s formal legal architecture. India’s founders, as I have suggested in a new book, India’s Founding Moment, imagined citizenship to be unmediated by community affiliation. For them, to belong to the modern world was to belong to representative framework where each person was treated on free and equal terms.

Measures like the new citizenship law challenge and undermine this founding vision. The law enables “any person belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi or Christian community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan” to become an Indian citizen, thereby explicitly excluding Muslims.

India’s Constitution guarantees the right to equal treatment. This right applies to all persons and not only to citizens. To pass muster, a law has to make an intelligible distinction between those that it includes and those that it excludes. Moreover, this distinction has to bear a rational connection to the law’s objective.

In this case, the stated objective is addressing the religious persecution of the enumerated classes. But the law does not capture this objective as it is both over- and under-inclusive. It does not provide protection to groups such as the Ahmadiyya Muslims from Pakistan and it assumes that all those who enter India from the specified classes are persecuted. This presumption is revealed by the fact that the law has no provisions relating to religious persecution at all, thus eliminating any link between the distinctions drawn and the declared aim.

As India is thrown deeper and deeper into a cycle of extra-constitutional violence, we should fear that the state and citizens will struggle to manage the situation. In such scenarios, the disorder and horror often follows a logic of its own.

If India continues to unravel in this fashion, there will be unspeakable acts on either side, untold truths that are hidden in every quarter. Even the most terrifying moves will be justified, even the clearest forms of evidence will be challenged.

In a world where public institutions and social harmony have given way, we will live under a state that claims monopoly over the exercise of force but no longer quite enjoys it. The state will deploy and exploit its power in every possible way, but, as in the case of colonial rule, the idea of legitimate authority will cease to have meaning. more>

The end of us

By Thomas Moynihan – As ideas go, human extinction is a comparatively new one. It emerged first during the 18th and 19th centuries. Though understudied, the idea has an important history because it teaches us lessons on what it means to be human in the first place, in the sense of what is demanded of us by such a calling.

For to be a rational actor is to be a responsible actor, which involves acknowledging the risks one faces, and this allows us to see today’s growing responsiveness to existential risks as being of a piece with an ongoing and as-yet-unfinished project that we first began to set for ourselves during the Enlightenment.

Recollecting the story of how we came to care about our own extinction helps to establish precisely why we must continue to care; and care now, as never before, insofar as the oncoming century is to be the riskiest thus far.

The story of the discovery of our species’ precariousness is also the story of humanity’s progressive undertaking of responsibility for itself. One is only responsible for oneself to the extent that one understands the risks one faces and is thereby motivated to mitigate against them.

It was the philosopher Immanuel Kant who defined ‘Enlightenment’ itself as humanity’s assumption of self-responsibility. The history of the idea of human extinction is therefore also a history of enlightening. It concerns the modern loss of the ancient conviction that we live in a cosmos inherently imbued with value, and the connected realization that our human values would not be natural realities independently of our continued championing and guardianship of them.

But if human extinction was first spoken about in the 18th century, where was the notion prior to this point? What about the perennial tradition of end-of-the-world scenarios coming from religion? For a start, prophecies concerning religious apocalypse provide us with a final revelation upon the ultimate meaning of time. Prognoses concerning human extinction, instead, provide us with a prediction of the irreversible termination of meaning within time. Where apocalypse secures a sense of an ending, extinction anticipates the ending of sense. They are different in kind – not degree – and therefore different in their origins.

So, why was human extinction and existential catastrophe not a topic of conversation and speculation prior to the Enlightenment? more>

Faith and Religion in Public Life Are Not Replacements for Reform

By Chayenne Polimédio – Last week, religious leaders, humanitarians, and politicians came together at the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., for a fellowship breakfast “in the spirit of Jesus.” The National Prayer Breakfast, held every year since 1953, is one of those moments—now rarer by the day—when political strife and division ostensibly take a back seat to prayer, calls for unity, and reminders of our shared identities. It’s also a reminder of how faith and public life are intertwined in a country where 70 percent of the population is Christian, and where the public’s trust in the church has always been greater than its trust in government.

But one need only think about recent headlines detailing a racist attack, a homophobic remark, or even broader political pettiness to question the extent to which the breaking of bread is enough to overcome the record-breaking level of division in American democracy.

The National Prayer Breakfast, in other words, is a reminder not of what kinds of positive changes faith is able to effect in public life, but of the kinds of changes it isn’t able to bring about. more>

Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it

BOOK REVIEW

The Territories of Science and Religion, Author: Peter Harrison.
Narratives of Secularization, Editor: Peter Harrison.
The Future of Christianity, Author: David Martin.

By Peter Harrison – Scientists, intellectuals and social scientists expected that the spread of modern science would drive secularization – that science would be a secularizing force. But that simply hasn’t been the case. If we look at those societies where religion remains vibrant, their key common features are less to do with science, and more to do with feelings of existential security and protection from some of the basic uncertainties of life in the form of public goods.

The US is arguably the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in the world, and yet at the same time the most religious of Western societies.

As in India and Turkey, secularism is actually hurting science.

In brief, global secularization is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science.

The conflict model of science and religion offered a mistaken view of the past and, when combined with expectations of secularization, led to a flawed vision of the future. Secularization theory failed at both description and prediction.

The real question is why we continue to encounter proponents of science-religion conflict.

Religion is not going away any time soon, and science will not destroy it. more> https://goo.gl/ZjLZJx

Updates from Chicago Booth

When making a profit was immoral
By John Paul Rollert – Take the system of beliefs we commonly associate with capitalism. However familiar they might seem to us, if we date capitalism’s founding moment to the publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations in 1776, the free-market nostrums that shape our views of business today are not even 250 years old.

In Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, a magnificent book that deserves to be better remembered, the English social critic and economic historian R. H. Tawney describes how the work of Catholic theologians in the late Middle Ages provided the “fundamental assumptions” that shaped Robert Keayne’s world and that capitalism’s proponents would later have to reinterpret, if not displace outright. Tawney said there were two central precepts that guided commercial activity: “that economic interests are subordinate to the real business of life, which is salvation, and that economic conduct is one aspect of personal conduct upon which, as on other parts of it, the rules of morality are binding.”

Taken together, these precepts are directly at odds with the central organizational assumption of capitalism, namely, that we should be guided by self-interest in commercial pursuits. more> https://goo.gl/72gRfL

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The limits of tolerance

BOOK REVIEW

The Limits of Free Will, Author: Paul Russell.

By Paul Russell – Race, gender and, more recently, sexual orientation are forms of identity that have been especially prominent in politics during the past century. What is striking about these forms of identity is not only that they are generally unchosen, but that they are not based on any ideological or value-laden set of commitments of a political or ethical nature.

Of course, the significance and interpretation of non-ideological identities, the ways in which they can be viewed as threatened or disrespected, is itself an ideological matter; but the identities themselves are not constituted by any ideological content (systems of belief, value, practices, etc), and the groups concerned could vary greatly in the particular ideologies that they endorse or reject.

It would, for example, be absurd to praise or blame Martin Luther King Jr for being black, or Margaret Thatcher for being a woman. There is no ideological content to their identity to assess or debate – the relevant identity is an inappropriate target for praise or blame, since there are no relevant assessable beliefs, values, practices or institutions to serve as the grounds of such responses. The identity of the group turns on natural qualities and features that cannot be discarded in light of critical scrutiny or reflection of any kind.

With ideological or value-laden identities the situation is different. The most obvious of these identities are political, constituted by doctrines, beliefs and values that have implications for our social and ethical practices and institutions.

The crucial question for tolerance, is: where does religion stand in relation to this divide? more> https://goo.gl/H6df7Z

Indiana Grapples With ‘Deep Mess’ of Religious-Freedom Law

By Melinda Henneberger – What faith on this earth bars people from serving people whose behavior they consider sinful?

Mine, I would argue, on the contrary requires that we do so, in keeping with Jesus’ example.

Clearly, the government can’t decide which faith-based claims are legitimate and which aren’t, because that’s just the kind of excessive entanglement of the government in religious matters that all sides want to avoid. more> http://tinyurl.com/q4hoekd

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Is Religion Inherently Violent?

BOOK REVIEW

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, Author: Karen Armstrong.

By Emma Green – Armstrong points out in the book, “there is no universal way to define ‘religion,'” particularly when it comes to comparing mono- and polytheistic faiths.

“In the West we see ‘religion’ as a coherent system of obligatory beliefs, institutions, and rituals … whose practice is essentially private and hermetically sealed off from all ‘secular’ activities.”

“But words in other languages that we translate as ‘religion’ almost invariably refer to something larger, vaguer, and more encompassing.” This is an important premise of one of Armstrong’s main arguments:

It’s impossible make a coherent case about the role of religion in warfare and violence throughout history and across the world, simply because religion plays very different roles in different cultures.

more> http://tinyurl.com/nq84us3

America Is Dumb and on the Road to Getting Dumber

By CJ Werleman – America remains a scientifically ignorant nation for two reasons:

the resurgence of fundamentalist religion during the past 40 years, and

secondly, the low level of science education in American elementary and secondary schools, as well as many tertiary colleges.

The great obstacle to educational and rational enlightenment is America’s disparate educational system. The Constitution asserted no federal power over education. In other words, states are free to spend their own tax revenue as they see fit. more> http://tinyurl.com/kbuu7gx