Saturday, January 10, 2009

Abrahamic vs. Dharmic Religions

This is interesting. I don't usually think of world religions in these sorts of binomial terms. (Purple indicates areas where the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam predominate; yellow represents the Dharmic religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism, etc.)



Sometimes, late in the broadcast of a sporting event, the sportscasters, feeling themselves bereft of things to say, will latch onto a notion. They will repeat this notion, over and over, each reinforcing the other's expression of this notion, in a sort of self-catalyzing reaction that causes them rapidly to take the originally reasonable idea in a decidedly ad absurdum vector. Such a phenomenon was in progress when I tuned into the last ten minutes of the college football championship the other night.

Turns out there's a football player by the name of Tim Tebow who was playing that night. And, according to Fox's sportscasters, Tim Tebow is a Good Man. They were very impressed at how Good a man he was and, they assured the audience, we all would be likewise impressed. Astounded even. In fact, they quickly led themselves into reporting, he might well be one of the finest young men in the world. He had been home-schooled. He was deeply religious. At one point during their encomium, this Tebow made sort of a churlish gesture toward an opposing player, and one of the announcers was moved to speculate that "that might have been the first bad thing he's ever done!" Now, I've never met this Tebow guy. But I feel comfortable in asserting that, if he is indeed a human being, that that was not the first bad thing Tebow'd ever done. I mean, by this point, by the sheer fervor of their moral judgment about the kid - positive though the judgment was - the announcers had pretty thoroughly deprived the poor kid (who had 'John 3:16' marked in white against the black of his smeared-on eyeshade) of his humanity.

One of their main bits of evidence that Tebow was of unmitigatedly hearty moral fiber was that he'd been on several missions to convert the natives of various countries around the world. So now my question is: really? Is missionary work still considered morally righteous by a mainstream-enough slice of the American public that Fox sports announcers can take such a view for granted on the air? Why, these announcers were acting as if they weren't even remotely familiar with postcolonial theory!

Now, I'll grant that if your are a Christian Dominionist or absolutist, then obviously you'd view (Christian) missionary work as morally righteous. But such a moral worldview is also antithetical to living in a plural society and, indeed, a plural world; whereas, if you believe that other cultures and religions have their own unique integrity, and the diversity of humanity's religious expressions is a part of our legacy that ought to be treasured, it's hard for me to see how you can regard missionaryin' the heathens as a worthy pursuit.

In other words, it seems like we still have a ways to go until the values of pluralism and cosmopolitanism can really be considered ascendant in this society.

This Wikipedia page has some more fun religion maps.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your sidenote about the player was interesting but it really seems to show a lack of historicizing. Of course those sportscasters are going to laud him; this is America, and America's heritage is Judeo-Christian. Beside this obvious point though, the people driven to missionary work (of whom I've known a few) are extraordinarily decent and intelligent people with sensitive hearts. That's anecdotal but there it is. As for pluralism, you're confusing tolerance with acceptance. Everybody thinks their ideology/religion is the best--if they didn't, they'd leave! But having specific beliefs and trying to convince others that they're true doesn't make them intolerant.

As a left-leaning Independent, during the election Dems were always telling me "Vote Obama"--does that make them intolerant of my status as Independent? Do you think that if all the Republicans wanted to "convert" to the Democratic party, the Dems would say, "Oh no, that would be terrible! We can't have everyone believing the same thing--this is a pluralistic society! If everyone were a Democrat that would be boring and wrong." Uh huh didn't think so. You sound intelligent but secular, to the point where you really need to educate yourself on religion. The key isn't acceptance as in, I believe what you believe; no. A plural society says: I believe this and I'd sure like it if others did too but I'm not forcing anyone to believe. One last thing--no religion is a monolith; within Christianity alone there is a dizzying array of plurality.

Cheers,
Maire

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