RE: [XTalk] Religion and politics
- The following exchange raises for me a question:
Mike Grondin wrote:
>While it's true that religion and politics were[Loren Rosson wrote:]
>inseparable in those days, the political aspect
>must be, I think, regarded as the more basic and
The proper understanding is that religion and politics
were inseparable in antiquity, because the former was
embedded in the institution of the latter. "Religion"
didn't exist as a discrete institution (anymore than
"economics" did). Religion and economics were embedded...
First, how "pervasive" (if that is the proper word) was the
Political-Economic-Religious complex in antiquity? In other
words, to what extent did these three, as a single "external
force," impinge on individualism?
Second, is there a modern analogy through which we can understand
the social impact of the P-E-R? In particular, I wonder if the
absolute dominance of economic concerns in modern society is a
lens through which we can understand the influence of
Politics-Economy-Religion in the first century.
It seems to me, for example, that it is easy enough for one to
opt for other (or no) religious alternatives in modern western
society. It is virtually impossible, on the other hand, to
abandon completely involvement with economic and
political/government institutions. Efforts to ignore or alter the
latter virtually assures one's self destruction.
To what extent, if any, were first century efforts to exercise
other religious alternatives similar to modern efforts to
"opt-out" of the dominant economic/political institutions? What
were the consequences for those who chose this option?
Humble Maine Woodsman
- Loren Rosson III said:
>>Actually, humanity's need for religion has proven to be as basic anduniversal as that for political power. The proper understanding is
that religion and politics were inseparable in antiquity, because the
former was embedded in the institution of the latter. "Religion"
didn't exist as a discrete institution (anymore than "economics" did).
Religion and economics were embedded in the two basic institutions of
family and politics. But does this mean, as Mike says, that religion
was somehow less "basic and universal" than politics? No, it means
simply that it didn't exist as a discrete institutional body.<<
Religious and/or political expressions, I would think, are essentially
products of "gestalt psychology" in action. In this way of looking at
things, the human brain makes an effort to "make sense out of
nonsense." Nonsense, here, means the mass of empirical data received
through our five senses. Sense, here, is the way the brain stores the
data as symbols and then rationalizes meaning from it (i.e., notes
apparent relationships between data as well as guesses what the causes
for these relationships might be, based on prior experience).
Economic realities (gotta eat, gotta have shelter) and power
structures (those who impose social order, and how they do it) may
actually be driving things along, but they are interpreted by the
human brain. The brain seems predisposed to create metaphysical
explanations when insufficient data is present or a correct analysis
has yet to be formulated. In an advance agrarian society like that of
the 1st century CE, people see a social-economic world in which a
small but very powerful elite rules over a large but unpowerful
producing class that lives at or near subsistence. This can be
rationalized as divine will (some power outside our understanding has
made things so), or the natural order of things (i.e., this power
structure is best for everyone). You can accept the rationalization or
react against it.
If we want to understand such things better, I'd suggest taking a look
at religious fundamentalism (Islamic, Hindu, even Christian) as a
reaction to economic stagnation or marginalization and power
relationships between nations. Just as an example, I used to have a
Muslim friend in college who was from Iran. He was connected to an
upper class family (his father was a university professor and he was
even named after the late Shaw). This was just before the revolution
led by Ayatollah Khomeini. He said that America was popularly thought
of as a blood sucking creature with tentacles latched onto everything
that could advantage it, leaving the suckees (Iranians and third world
nations in general) lifeless in the end.
The resulting revolution, though, came in the dress of religious
fundamentalism. Alternately, a revolution such as that which occurred
in the Russian empire in 1917, and driven by the stress that WW1 was
placing on the economy, was dressed almost entirely in political
clothes. This being the case, it seems that our understanding of the
world tends to be cast in the form of religious or political
philosophy. These are examples of reactions against economic/social
conditions, and I am sure we all could come up with many examples of
Cleveland, Ohio, USA