2.) “But what about [insert episode of violence here]?”
I touched on the issue of vague claims in my post on trolling. This comes up particularly in discussions of violence in religion – I had one conversation where the person I was speaking to jumped from the Byzantine concept of emperor to Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition, and I genuinely felt like I had whiplash. Yes, every religion has violence in its past. Let me say that again – *every* religion has some violence. For that matter, *every* social construct has violence in its past, because humans are (sometimes) violent, but even when we’re violent, we still like rationalizing our actions, and often rely on social constructs to do so.
This kind of fixating on violence in religion is really a type of the reductionism I described above, generally used to claim that there’s something wrong with a particular religion or with “religion” in general (more on that below). It’s frustrating for all the reasons reductionism is frustrating, but it also has the added irritation that it makes it impossible to discuss either the religion or the individual episodes of violence.
I’ve taught the Crusades, and part of why I love it is that it’s a really bizarre period of history. That a group of Frankish knights took advice from the Pope and used the Byzantine Emperor’s request for troops as an excuse to invade Palestine and set up a Frankish state in the Holy Land is, for lack of a better way to put it, totally batshit crazy. And it only worked due to a whole bunch of historical coincidences – the lack of concurrent Muslim interest in the Holy Land because of factional infighting, the short period of Papal authority created as an outcome of the Investiture Controversy, and the influx of residents to the Frankish state of Outremer created by the Frankish kings’ new hardline for inheritance law. Take away any one of those, and the Crusades probably never would have happened. But all of that goes unnoticed if the Crusades are just written off as “violence in religion.”
3.) “I like faith, it’s all the dogma I have a problem with.”
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