Does Religion Promote Dissension and Conflict?

Temple of St Vladimir. It was turned to bus st...
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It can, and sometimes does, but so does politics, ideology, race, and gender.  Atheists often caricature religion as the most corrosive force on earth, but as Alister McGrath points out, this is sociologically and historically naive.

Suppose [Richard] Dawkins’s dream were to come true, and religion were to disappear.  Would that end the divisions within humanity and the violence that ensues from them?  Certainly not.  Such divisions are ultimately social constructs which reflect the fundamental sociological need for communities to self-define and identify those who are “in” and those who are “out,” those who are “friends,” and those who are “foes.”

. . . . A series of significant binary oppositions are held to have shaped Western thought—such as “male-female” and “white-black.”  Binary opposition leads to the construction of the category of “the other”—the devalued half of a binary opposition—when applied to groups of people.  Group identity is often fostered by defining “the other”—as, for example, in Nazi Germany with its opposition “Aryan-Jew.”

. . . . The simplistic belief that the elimination of religion would lead to the ending of violence, social tension or discrimination is thus sociologically naive.  It fails to take account of the way in which human beings create values and norms, and make sense of their identity and their surroundings.  If religion were to cease to exist, other social demarcators would emerge as decisive . . . [As they did, for example, during the French Revolution and in the Soviet Union.]

Michael Shermer, president of the Skeptics Society, has made the significant point that religions were implicated in some human tragedies such as holy wars.  While rightly castigating these—a criticism which I gladly endorse—Shermer goes on to emphasize that there is clearly a significant positive side to religion:

“For every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go unreported . . . . Religion, like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil.”

— Alister McGrath, “Is Religion Evil,” God is Great, God is Good (IVP, 2009), 129-131.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Introspection

Le Penseur, Musée Rodin, Paris

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Introspection, as the term is used in contemporary philosophy of mind, is a means of learning about one’s own currently ongoing, or perhaps very recently past, mental states or processes. You can, of course, learn about your own mind in the same way you learn about others’ minds—by reading psychology texts, by observing facial expressions (in a mirror), by examining readouts of brain activity, by noting patterns of past behavior—but it’s generally thought that you can also learn about your mind introspectively, in a way that no one else can. But what exactly is introspection? No simple characterization is widely accepted. Although introspection must be a process that yields knowledge only of one’s own current mental states, more than one type of process fits this characterization.

Introspection is a key concept in epistemology, since introspective knowledge is often thought to be particularly secure, maybe even immune to skeptical doubt. Introspective knowledge is also often held to be more immediate or direct than sensory knowledge. Both of these putative features of introspection have been cited in support of the idea that introspective knowledge can serve as a ground or foundation for other sorts of knowledge.

Introspection is also central to philosophy of mind, both as a process worth study in its own right and as a court of appeal for other claims about the mind. Philosophers of mind offer a variety of theories of the nature of introspection; and philosophical claims about consciousness, emotion, free will, personal identity, thought, belief, imagery, perception, and other mental phenomena are often thought to have introspective consequences or to be susceptible to introspective verification. For similar reasons, empirical psychologists too have discussed the accuracy of introspective judgments and the role of introspection in the science of the mind. (Continue article)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Identity

{{de|Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (Gemälde von Be...
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The logical relation of numerical sameness, in which each thing stands only to itself. Although everything is what it is and not anything else, philosophers try to formulate more precisely the criteria by means of which we may be sure that one and the same thing is cognized under two different descriptions or at two distinct times. Leibniz held that numerical identity is equivalent to indiscernibility or sameness of all the features each thing has. But Locke maintained that judgments of identity are invariably made by reference to types or sorts of things. The identity of individual persons is an especially troublesome case.

(Via Philosophical Dictionary)

Philosophers of mind who hold to naturalism typically assert some kind of identity relation between the mind and the brain, which many theists find problematic.  J. P. Moreland has done excellent work in defending a substance dualist view of persons that grounds individual identity in the human soul rather than any biological properties.

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