Support Christian missions in Africa? No, but . . .
#25
(29-May-2011, 10:53 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: To address the repeated concerns that the New Atheist approach in dealing with conflict resolution is 'naive', even 'dishonest', it would perhaps be useful for critics of this approach to spell out by suggesting readings etc what they think is a less naive, more honest, more holistic and credible approach in addressing this problem, so that we can then weigh the merits of both approaches.
One could start by reading the history of some real conflicts for starters. For example, World War II by C.L. Sulzberger is a good book on the topic of World War II. Also, for example, histories of the French revolution or the Russian Civil War or of the Indo-Pakistan wars would be also interesting. If after studying the histories of these real conflicts, one deduces that religion is a "chief factor" or "major factor" behind them, then I'd be interested in knowing such arguments. For example, Dawkins says:
Dawkins Wrote:My point is not that religion itself is the motivation for wars, murders and terrorist attacks, but that religion is the principal label, and the most dangerous one, by which a 'they' as opposed to a 'we' can be identified at all. I am not even claiming that religion is the only label by which we identify the victims of our prejudice. There's also skin colour, language, and social class. But often, as in Northern Ireland, these don't apply and religion is the only divisive label around.
This is not a historically valid approach to studying the Irish conflict whose roots lie in the continued domination of the Irish people by the English which dates from well beyond the Protestant-Catholic divide. For example, the Norman invasion of Ireland and the subsequent formation of the Lordship of Ireland took place in the twelfth century when there was no Catholic-Protestant divide. So, one cannot write this conflict of as a Catholic-Protestant conflict. On a similar note, I wonder if Dawkins lived during the independence struggle of India, would he have written it off as a Hindu-Christian struggle?
Quote:Given an ad nauseam reiteration of rehearsed talking points which this thread seems to be becoming, this seems necessary. In any case, the original quote which triggered off this discussion itself seems to be pre-emptively caveated, leading one to wonder why this discussion is so long-drawn in the first place.


Quote:Given that Islam is such an unmitigated evil, and looking at the map supplied by this Christian site, should we be supporting Christian missions in Africa? My answer is still no, but I thought it was worth raising the question. Given that atheism hasn't any chance in Africa for the foreseeable future, could our enemy's enemy be our friend?

Richard
(Emphasis mine)
His statement seems quite innocuous and he probably regretted saying it later, much like Lars Von Trier's Nazi gaffe, but saying such things in the face of the massive civilian casualties as a result of African civil wars is indeed very offensive to the victims of those conflicts, where Christian armies like the Lords Resistance Army are accused of being guilty of several human rights abuses.
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#26
(29-May-2011, 11:38 AM)madhav Wrote:
(29-May-2011, 10:53 AM)arvindiyer Wrote: To address the repeated concerns that the New Atheist approach in dealing with conflict resolution is 'naive', even 'dishonest', it would perhaps be useful for critics of this approach to spell out by suggesting readings etc what they think is a less naive, more honest, more holistic and credible approach in addressing this problem, so that we can then weigh the merits of both approaches.
One could start by reading the history of some real conflicts for starters. For example, World War II by C.L. Sulzberger is a good book on the topic of World War II. Also, for example, histories of the French revolution or the Russian Civil War or of the Indo-Pakistan wars would be also interesting. If after studying the histories of these real conflicts, one deduces that religion is a "chief factor" or "major factor" behind them, then I'd be interested in knowing such arguments.

Thank you for the reading recommendation. However, my question was to with prescriptive suggestions for conflict resolution rather than historical narratives of the conflicts themselves which books of the sort you have suggested provide, which lend themselves to more than one diagnosis.

The keyword is conflict resolution, inclusive of conflict prevention and here are a few attempts made by several groups each emphasizing on one source of conflict depending on their diagnosis, thereby rendering each one prone to accusations of 'reductionism' or naivete, but as has been argued here, each group deserves better than a blanket dismissal.

(i) The New Atheist position on conflict resolution seems to be that a society in which the wall between Church and State is well-defended and when religion ceases to be a primary determinant of identity, will be a society less prone (not immune to) to civil strife.

(ii) Another brand of activism emphasizing microfinance as a means of women's empowerment, is motivated by the belief that women's empowerment itself reduces proneness to civil strife. This TED talk whose message can be summarized as follows makes a case for this worldview:
"The stark statistic of today's cross-border sex-slavery being tenfold that of the slavery of the 1780s, highlights gender inequity as our century's greatest moral challenge and recent success stories show that investment in girls' education in the developing world can lead to smaller families with wiser spending habits, offering donors return-on-investment in the form of a world less prone to violence."

Now are we to dismiss the approach adopted in (ii) as 'naive' because it does not explicitly address the eventuality of a rural community with thriving women-led small businesses being overrun by a communal riot? Or would it be a better idea to consider it a means to mitigate at least one potential source of civil strife and support it accordingly? By this yardstick, isn't there a case to be made for the approach in (i) too?

Speaking of conflict resolution, and efforts at designing a more just society in general, I would classify (informally without any claims of rigour) movements in this direction in two classes: Statist and Civil-Society-led.

(1) The features of the 'Statist' approach are:
(i) Structural overhaul of a top-down nature, often involving capture of state power
(ii) A near-Utopian vision to be occasioned, advanced and defended by suspension of any other priorities of society.
It is worth noting that several movements in the Indian subcontinent which began as 'social movements' lapse into this Statist narrative and are pre-occupied with capturing political power. Examples include: Dravida Kazhagam ---> Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, BAMCEF ---> Bahujan Samaj Party, RSS ---> BJP. The historically archetypal narrative for this of course in the Marxist one involving a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' (structural overhaul) which is supposedly a historical inevitability (Utopian vision).

(2) The features of the Civil-Society-led approach are:
(i) Emphasis on behavioral rather than structural change, advanced through volunteerism and 'essentialism' rather than tight affiliations
(ii) Pragmatism rather than Utopianism and patience with gradualistic or piecemeal attainment of goals in the absence of an overarching revolution.
The Civil Rights Movement in the US, which was not waged by a single political party and whose successes came in the form of progressive concessions rather than one sweeping legislative action, remains a classic example of this approach.

Returning to conflict resolution, an important case study is post-apartheid South Africa, where a Civil initiative, namely the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, gracefully complemented the capture of State power by the African National Congress. (More on that in Post # 3 in this thread.)

In the context of the New Atheist movement's contribution to conflict resolution and its offering to social commentary in general, it is worth noting that this movement's vocabulary and methods such as 'consciousness raising' are adapted from quintessentially civil-society-led movements like feminism and LGBT rights. It is understandable that those who find the Statist brand of activism more compelling would find the Civil-Society-led model's near-indifference to political power and its absence of overarching narratives naive. But for many of us, the less disruptive and more voluntary nature of the Civil Society approach, which also characterizes the New Atheist movement to a large degree is a merit rather than a shortcoming of the movement, and in fact one of the reasons we have thrown in our lot with it.




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#27
(29-May-2011, 12:57 PM)arvindiyer Wrote: (i) The New Atheist position on conflict resolution seems to be that a society in which the wall between Church and State is well-defended and when religion ceases to be a primary determinant of identity, will be a society less prone (not immune to) to civil strife.
This however misses the broad historical positioning of that society. For example, how did a particular society come to a stage where the wall between Church and State is well defended or where the wall does not exist? In India, under Nehru's Prime Ministership, the wall between the state and religion could be said to be well defended, but after Indira Gandhi's reign, somehow the wall seemed to disappear more and more. Why did this happen? I do not claim to know the answer, but unless one places any society within its broad historical state of development, it is not very useful to come up with prescriptions as to how the society should be.

The New Atheist position is that one does not need to know why a particular society is the way it is, but instead, by proposing an abstract, transhistorical formula (eradication of religion), any civil strife in a society will be minimised or eliminated. This is pretty much the definition of an utopian ideal being applied blindly without consideration for the particular circumstances of a country or society.

It seems that New Atheists are coming up with solutions without knowing the actual problems! This is the reason why I recommended studying books on history of conflicts.

In order to understand the problems facing a society such as India, one has to first investigate the historical circumstances which have led up to the present state of things.

I have given several examples where religion cannot be considered the root for the conflict, for example, World War II etc. I'd like the people who are arguing that religion is the root of all civil strifes in today's world to come up with at least one concrete example where this is applicable today.

As to your other formulations of statist vs civil society based activism, it is based on a false dichotomy. This is because the so-called "statist" approach also involves civil society and does not take place outside of civil society. Also, any "civil society"-based approach necessarily involves the state.
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#28
(29-May-2011, 09:45 AM)madhav Wrote: However, atheists cannot assume that because they do not believe in God, they can sit in judgement on all matters and claim that if religion ceases to exist, the problems of the world will disappear magically.

It is you who is making these false absolute statements over and over, very much like the religious apologists. Please refrain from this nonsense. Firstly, there is no causality here, nor was any intended in my statements. Not believing in god does not mean anything other than not believing in god. Secondly, we all make judgments, including you. So lets dispense with the sanctimonious attitude. Thirdly, for the last fucking time, stop misrepresenting the nuanced arguments we're making with stupid statements like " if religion ceases to exist, the problems of the world will disappear magically".

Quote:"Religion forms only a part of the world's problems."

This has already been addressed multiple times. Your constant refusal to acknowledge our arguments on this point indicate that you are simply not intent on listening and are only intent on making your redundant arguments.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#29
(29-May-2011, 10:30 AM)madhav Wrote: It would certainly help the debate if we ceased to use terms such as "major factor" or "chief factor" while describing the roots of conflicts.

False equivalence (and misrepresented). I said "a major factor". There is a difference between "a major factor" and "the chief factor" (P11 said "Religion is not the chief factor for war", which is what I was responding to). The former indicates one among many and the latter indicates the most important.

Quote:As I have pointed out already in my previous post, we cannot separate the religious factor from the other factors, neither can we separate out economic or ethnic or racial factors from each other.

Why are you going on about this as though this point has not been answered already? Of course we cannot say that there is one factor alone that influences such things, but we certainly can focus on individual issues when they matter. The argument you make is nothing but an excuse for inaction.

Quote:There is no clear demarcation in any war where we can definitively say religion is the biggest factor.


Both false arguments rolled into one sentence.
1. There is no clear demarcation between any number of things. What we can do is acknowledge that there are other factors, and that those factors may be important and need to be considered. But those other factors do not preclude discussion and criticism of those factors that we are concerned about. Your argument is like saying that because there are multiple factors that cause global climate change, we should not try to reduce CO2 emissions from automobiles.
2. Really, this is the last time I'm putting up with the "religion is the biggest factor" misrepresentation of our nuanced position on the issue. You are trolling this thread now.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.
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#30
(29-May-2011, 02:02 PM)madhav Wrote: I do not claim to know the answer, but unless one places any society within its broad historical state of development, it is not very useful to come up with prescriptions as to how the society should be.
....
This is because the so-called "statist" approach also involves civil society and does not take place outside of civil society. Also, any "civil society"-based approach necessarily involves the state.

Following repeated accusations of being innocent of historical context, I think it is worthwhile to write about how the approaches adopted by the New Atheists are timely, particularly apt to their chosen problems and can in fact be placed in a sound theoretical framework.

1) Most of the historical instances provided in the thread above are of conventional warfare perpetrated by 'state actors' largely to safeguard territorial or economic interests. However this narrative abruptly stops before the contemporary era where 'asymmetric warfare' is a reality societies cannot afford to ignore. That the perpetrators of asymmetric warfare, particularly in global terrorism, often hail from affluent backgrounds with access to professional education and yet participate in religiously motivated violence is itself an illustration of how this is not wholly a bread-and-butter battle but a hearts-and-minds battle necessarily involving a civil society discourse on religion.

While ignoring asymmetric warfare is one instance of retrospective hypermetropia, another instance is the view that the participation of some kind of 'establishment' is necessary for the success of a revolution. The 20th century Russian and Chinese revolutions are archetypes of revolutions led by a party establishment and the Iranian Revolution is a more recent example of a revolution led by a clerical establishment. However, the 21st century Arab Spring (at least thus far) is palpably civil-society-led in that no one party or establishment commands leadership of the movement and is largely non-partisan rejecting both left-wing radicalism and right-wing radicalism, rejecting both anarchism and theocracy. In short the approach of the New Atheists is timely for contemporary times where asymmetric warfare, intersectional affiliations and online organization are forces to reckon with and must necessarily feature in our reading of history.

2) There is one more commonality between the 20th century socio-political movements in India which I had listed earlier as 'Statist' or what we can now called establishment-focussed (DK---> DMK, BAMCEF ---> BSP, RSS ---> BJP). All these movements represented the interests of a numerical majority of some kind rendering capture of state power plausible. Specifically, ethnic Dravidians are a majority in South India, the word 'Bahujan' itself has connotations of members of the majority, and the Sangh of course is explicitly majoritarian. Of course, the Marxist narrative prescribing dictatorship of the proletariat, rests on the premise that the proletariat are a numerical majority.

The Civil Rights movement on the other hand could not ever plausibly hope to capture state power because it was in essence a minority movement. Atheists and freethinkers continue to be a minority in most countries where they are beginning to organize and it seems obvious that the civil-society model is more apt for their movements than the establishment-centric model.

3) Coming now to the supposed lack of theoretical soundness in the Statist/Civil-Society-led distinction, this classification can be placed in a theoretical framework suggested by Prof. Amartya Sen, (who may be unconvincing to some owing to his lack of Marxist pedigree). Prof. Sen in his book The Idea of Justice lists two broad approaches (taking care to not suggest that they are mutually exclusive) in dealing with injustice in societies:
(i) Transcendental institutionalism : This view is based on the conception of an 'ideal institution' which when implemented will uphold perfect justice. The shorthand which I had used for this view is the 'establishment-centric' or 'Statist' view with an emphasis on structural overhaul.
(ii) Realization-focused comparison : Instead of treating an idealized institution as a destination, this approach is based on creating a menu of possible realizable institutions working off of the existing one, and deciding which one represents the greatest benefit. According to Prof. Sen, the conceptions of and comparisons between these possible realizable institutions must be performed through a participative process of 'public reasoning'. It is the emphasis on 'public reasoning' that I attempted to capture in my labeling of such a movement as civil-society led.
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