Archive for September, 2006

The Survival Value of Religion: The Good News and the Bad News

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

According to New Scientist (January 28-February 3, 2006), “The study of belief in all its forms has become a very hot topic” (page 29). That statement alone is not remarkable; but the fact that New Scientist is making it is. Because science, as New Scientist acknowledges, has been reluctant to take religion seriously as a topic worthy of study. In that issue, Robin Dunbar, Alison Motluck, and Clare Wilson provide three different approaches to the topic in the articles “We Believe,” page 30, “Particles of Faith,” page 34, and “Glad to be Gullible,” page 37. The Atlantic got in on the act in the December 2005 issue with their cover story “Is God An Accident?” by Paul Bloom. And just yesterday (February 19, 2006), The New York Times reviewed Daniel Dennett”s book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

I guess this scientific interest should not be surprising, but it is, given science’s perverse resistance to taking religion seriously in a world which is being torn apart by religion. It is like the Bush administration’s denial of global warming. Given the very dangerous state of the world right now resulting from a sharp right turn toward religious fundamentalism (both Christian and Islamic), however, even scientists are beginning to realize that religion when it is radicalized is a force which is as real, as powerful, and as potentially dangerous as a hurricane. At any rate, I am glad the discussion is happening and this essay is my contribution to the conversation. It addresses the origins of religion, the relationship between religion and survival, the power of religion, and the difficulties of letting go ” even when religion has become a destructive force.

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Terminal Priapism

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

Forget avian flu. We have a more immediate problem. The United States is experiencing an epidemic of priapism — both literally and figuratively. First and most importantly, we have a president whose hardness (compassionate claims to the contrary) is and has been demonstrated in his zealous execution of prisoners in Texas, in his enthusiasm to send his own countrymen and women to death in Iraq, in his careless killing of thousands of Iraqi innocents, and in his grotesque policies which have lead to the abuse of hundreds of innocent political prisoners. This murderous hardness of heart — or resolve, as it is euphemistically called — is putative evidence of the hardness of another organ whose ability to stand at attention is proof positive of strength and masculinity — qualities the president is at great pains to manifest in his physical stance and his rhetoric, most famously in the genital- hugging flight suit he so proudly wore when announcing the end of the war.

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Man, Revisited

Wednesday, September 6th, 2006

When I went to college, many years ago, we all had to take a course known as “Man Viewed in the Light of History and Religion” otherwise known as “Man” (quite aptly, as I came later to understand). It was a survey of western civilization, specifically the writings of Western men (those old dead white males you hear so much about); and the opinings of these great men were reverently presented as the highest wisdom – and in some cases as ultimate truth. And I, like Maria von Herbert (see below) and as most women students have done over the years, read these men and believed that they were speaking to me and to my condition. Obviously, I couldn’t have been more wrong and obviously I was in complete denial, refusing to believe the words that my eyes were taking in. However, at some level, my mind was processing this information, with the result that I was deeply conflicted about what it meant to me to be a women vs. what being a woman meant in terms of value in my own culture. What a relief to finally get all that sorted out.

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