Why does religion cause so much war?
A lot in Judi’s post that I fundamentally align with: our need for stories, the need for universal cooperation, the depths of complexity present, the fundamental uncertainties we face.
A lot more in Judi’s post that seems clearly to me (beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt), on the basis of the evidence available to me, to have been falsified, and those are the notions of any sort of fundamental design, or any sort of grand balance or harmony that has been disturbed.
What seems clearly to be the case is that we are part of an evolving system, that is open ended, and has clearly (from the records of both our cultural stories and the deep time of geological history) undergone many periods of profound change in the past, when life has been vastly reduced, then come away again. Not that I am promoting such things, just noting that they have happened, and unless we put in place effective risk mitigation strategies at all levels are likely to happen again – such seems to be the nature of a semi random exploration of the possibility spaces available to life that seems to have been going on at the genetic level for almost 4 billion years and significantly at the cultural level for something less than a million, and mostly over the last few thousand years (exponentially increasing over recent centuries, decades, years and months).
The exponential increase in the cultural level of evolution has been occurring very unevenly across different domains.
In the domains of science and technology, it has been extremely rapid, and highly dimensional, but the higher the number of dimensions the fewer the number of individuals involved (that is true of all domains, and particularly so in science given the large number of dimension now available – meaning a huge spread in the dimensionality of the stories across the population of scientists).
Same is true for all the other major dimensions present in a sense, though mostly to a lesser degree – the dimensions of religion, of art, of politics, of economics, of culture, of warfare and strategy, of philosophy, of mathematics and logic and computation more generally.
And there are no clear boundaries between any of these domains – every one effects and is influenced by, all the others.
Right now, we are in a very dangerous place, as two ancient modalities (the cooperative and the competitive) battle at many different levels, both within each of us as individuals, and in wider associations and “cultural” constructs.
In a strictly games theoretical sense, such battles seem likely to be eternal in one sense, but in another sense, it does seem possible to develop modalities in which the system as a whole is dominated by a cooperative modality that allows an appropriately safe expression of competitive modalities at lower levels, and is constantly vigilant for the emergence of new, higher level, competitive modalities that threaten the infinite diversity possible within the cooperative context.
What is clear to me, beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, is that market based values (exchange values), while they can be useful in certain contexts, if allowed to dominate the systemic incentive space are anathema to cooperation.
The cooperative strategies can use markets as tools in certain contexts, but market values cannot be allowed to play any significant role in the highest level decision making.
At that highest level, if any of us want any sort of significant probability of survival and prosperity, then the decision making context must be based on the values of individual life and individual liberty applied universally, and those values must result in an exponential expansion of diversity.
Such expansion of the possibilities of being demands a tolerance of diversity from all of us (within the context of respect for life and liberty, which has the consequential duty of care for the environment and ecosystems that support us all).
So any of the older modalities that are not actively tolerant of diversity in this sense become toxic, and need to be eradicated. That will apply to many of the more fundamental forms of religion, as it applies to many of the simpler forms of politics, economics, and many other aspects of culture.
It can be difficult for some to grasp that having an infinite realm of possible choice does not mean that all choices are acceptable, and the realm of unacceptable choices can be a greater infinity.
It can also be difficult for many to accept that many of the things from our past are no longer appropriate, which applies as much to our tastes and emotions and feelings as it does to higher cultural and technical constructs.
So coming back to Bhatta’s initial question – Why does religion cause so much war?
I don’t see that religion is the cause of war.
I see two major systemic causes of war, that can apply recursively at any level in any domain.
First is intolerance, the failure of a set of stories from which we derive our values to accept infinite diversity (which is not the same thing as accepting everything as equally valid – there are many classes of behaviour and choice which are unacceptable, but one cannot construct firm boundaries around what is acceptable – one must keep the boundaries flexible as they are very context sensitive).
Second is a lack of abundance. If there is sufficient for the reasonable needs of all, then cooperation will always deliver better outcomes than competition. If however there is not enough for all, then conflict is almost always inevitable. We now have the option of developing technologies which can deliver abundance of all reasonable needs to all people. We also live in an age dominated by market values and markets value universal abundance of anything at zero. So we have a fundamental conflict that we need to resolve quickly.
We have the insane situation of technology delivering the ability for some to become billionaires, while the majority live in abject poverty.
That cannot be stable, or secure, in any sense, for anyone. It can only end badly.
We have alternatives, and those alternatives are actually in the best interests of everyone, and don’t actually require taking anything from anyone, and they do require some significant changes to the sorts of games most people play.
So religions, if they teach active acceptance of diversity, and compassion, and cooperation, can be a powerful tool for peace and prosperity.
And if they have hard narrow boundaries on what is acceptable that pose significant risk to the life or liberty of anyone else, then they are in the class of unacceptable behaviours, and need to be removed.
Our future needs a lot of diversity, a lot of tolerance, a lot of negotiation of flexible boundaries.
Yes – like most words in English, it is open to many possible interpretations.
If in doubt I usually resort to the Oxford English Dictionary – I have the full 22 volume printed work in the office, but also have the software version installed on my laptop.
1.a A state of life bound by monastic vows; the condition of one who is a member of a religious order, esp. in the Roman Catholic Church.
2.a A particular monastic or religious order or rule; a religious house. Now rare.
3.a Action or conduct indicating a belief in, reverence for, and desire to please, a divine ruling power; the exercise or practice of rites or observances implying this. Also pl., religious rites. Now rare, exc. as implied in 5.
4.a A particular system of faith and worship.
5.a Recognition on the part of man of some higher unseen power as having control of his destiny, and as being entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship; the general mental and moral attitude resulting from this belief, with reference to its effect upon the individual or the community; personal or general acceptance of this feeling as a standard of spiritual and practical life.
All of these senses point to systems of faith, of truth.
Each can be contrasted in a sense with scientific systems based on eternal questions, and uncertainty in all things, where actions come down to balances of probabilities rather than any sort of hard notion of right or wrong or truth.
Similar to the sense of “holding” is the etymology of religion from religare (to bind), though some equate it to relegere (to read over) – perhaps elements of both from different periods.
I see from my very brief look that Dharma has no simple English translation – and in Hindu tradition is a complex that signifies behaviours that are considered to be in accord with rta, the order that makes life and universe possible, and includes duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and ‘‘right way of living”.
The idea of there being an order that makes life and the universe possible does not have much meaning for me.
To me it seem clear that life is an open ended and potentially infinite system of levels of evolving systems, exploring ever more abstract spaces of possibility of being.
I’m all for exploration.
Some of the most interesting music makes use of discord, of breaking old pattern to create new ones.
Not everything need be harmonious, and I do see a need to value life and liberty.
I don’t think I would be a very good Hindu 😉