Who Got Religon In My Civil Discourse?

One can look at many comment threads on news posts, blog posts, and even discussions and arguments on Facebook or Twitter and find that often religion gets directly brought up into the debate. This can look a number of different ways. This can take the form of someone denigrating all organized religion as evil, harmful, or outdated. It can also take the form of a religious individual (usually a Christian, sadly enough) lamenting the state of the world because it isn’t following God or at least some rule or belief that they hold to and think everyone else should too. Other times you can get arguments between people of the same religion, and every once in awhile you can actually see productive dialogue.

My point is that when it comes to discussions religion often gets brought up. Sometimes in these discussions there are people who wonder why religion has to come up all the time. I think such a question is missing that, at least in my opinion, we are all religious in one way or another.

Does that mean we all believe in God? No, but then again not every system of organized religion has a deity at the center, Buddhism is one such example of this (although there are some variations that do include some kind of deity from what I understand). Does it mean that we all have an organized label that we attach to ourselves? Not necessarily. What it means is that we have particular ways of looking at the world that are shaped by what we believe and these beliefs can often be shared with other people even without a formal time of gathering.

Wikipedia gives this definition of religion in the first line of their article on religion, “Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order in existence.” To me that definition encompasses a much wider spectrum than most people utilize when speaking of religion. We all have our own ideas on God, even if it is ultimately that such a being doesn’t exists; on the origins of existence, be it by natural means, supernatural means or some combination; how we should view human beings; and morality, what is right and wrong.

So the reason why religion is not far from many of the discussions involving various issues, is that ultimately we all have our particular religious beliefs informing our opinions. Certain religious people may willingly take on a religious label like Christian (or some more specific label like Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, etc), Atheist, Jewish, Muslim, or any of the other multitude of religions that there are. That doesn’t mean that those who eschew any sort of labels are not religious and that they don’t share a base of beliefs with a group of people.

Now I understand that my opinion here may not be held by others, in fact the article I referenced above has a footnote saying how religion is very difficult to define. I think it is probably easy to think of yourself as not having any religion just because you don’t sign up to one of the major world religions, but I’m just not convinced its that simple.

I’ve known many people who hold deep beliefs and convictions, but do not claim a particular organized religion to adhere to. How does one classify these beliefs and convictions? They are rooted in some larger framework of how they view the world. Maybe you don’t want to concede that it’s a religious belief, but even if I grant that I don’t feel they’re as different as many would like it to be.

Yes the beliefs may not come from the Torah, Bible, Qur’an, or Vedas, but they come from somewhere. Beliefs can come from parents and the environment we are raised in (this is often brought up in arguments against religions like Christianity and Islam, but the same would be true of atheism or any view). Beliefs can be shaped by books, articles, studies, and other material we read or hear over the course of our lives. We are shaped by a number of factors that are both outside of our control and within our control, this is true for everybody (although admittedly some have more control than others).

Now this doesn’t mean that everyone is right and there can’t be any criticizing of any ideas. It just simply means that we all have our own religious beliefs, or a belief system if you prefer. It means that just saying you’re religious or non-religious doesn’t somehow increase the validity of your points.

It also means that we’ll be bringing all these beliefs we carry into the public world. Our views of God, humanity, the world, and morality are not things anybody can just take off at the door and automatically have a neutral position. So maybe the pressing question isn’t “Why does religion always come into the discussion?” Instead it may be, “Why did we think religion could be eliminated from the conversation in the first place?”

Assassin’s Creed II, Religion, Power, and Control

A common sentiment that I’ve found is the idea that we’d all be better off if there wasn’t religion. This view believes that religion is the cause of much of the evil and conflict in the world. You see this sentiment appear in video games too. Too often if there is a religious order they are usually intentionally or unintentionally part of the problem. Assassin’s Creed II seems to follow this at first glance, but I think that there is more going on with it than that. Dealing with a theme like this will mean that I will be dealing with spoilers to Assassin’s Creed II. The game is four years old at this point, so I won’t be spoiling anything from a new game, but if you’re like me and behind on your games, this serves as a warning.

As I said, at first glance Assassin’s Creed II looks like it echos the complaints against religion. The Templars who are the antagonists of both the first and second game are associated with the Catholic Church. This is clearer in the first game as the Templars are associated with the religious order of the Knights Templar. Assassin’s Creed II picks this up as a number of the men involved in the plot that killed your father and brothers are established in the Catholic Church. Involved in the conspiracy is an archbishop, a monk, a friar (in downloadable content for the game), and even the Pope himself (he actually becomes the Pope after being the mastermind behind the plot, but still you seriously have to fight the Pope in this game).

With this kind of evidence it could be clear that Assassin’s Creed has a dim view of religion and would chime in that religion is the root of all the conflict and evil in the world. Hold onto that judgment for a bit though. In a conversation that takes place while fighting Rodrigo Borgia, the man who became the Pope, Ezio (your character), basically asks how Rodrigo could do what he’s done when it goes against the teaching of the Bible. The Pope simply says that he doesn’t believe in God or the Bible and that it was all just a show to be able to achieve power. You see, actual religious belief had very little to do with the whole thing. It was the mask to be worn so that one could achieve goals and gain power and control.

Now this may not get religion off the hook for many people. After all many believe that religion is a sham and just used to control people, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t really help that. The question that may be needed is, what about the people who are actually believers in a religion, are they to be written off because some who wield power are just playing the system and wanting as much control as possible? This is a question that isn’t important in the world of Assassin’s Creed because Ezio finds out the truth of human creation, he meets a recording of Minerva, a member of a more advanced civilization that created the human beings. So ultimately religion isn’t really true in Assassin’s Creed so it isn’t a game that promotes religion, but it isn’t necessarily out to blame religion for all the evil or conflict in the world either.

What leads me to say that? Well how about the fact that in the modern day story line the Templars have abandoned any sort of religious affiliation. They are instead connected to what is probably the largest power structure in modern day, a multi-national corporation, Abstergo Industries. I think this leans towards the idea that the Templars are more interested in power and control and will use any system it can to gain it. So while the Catholic Church was strong and wielded a fair degree of power, that was infiltrated and propped up by Templars. When it became less powerful, it was then abandoned. Once that structure was abandoned a new power structure had to be developed.

So why is this important at all? Maybe it isn’t, but I think it is important because power and control are not just facets of religion, despite so many people insisting it is. Assassin’s Creed II just gave me an illustration of this truth and made me think about the topic a little bit. The truth is our history is littered with conflict over a number of different reasons. I would be lying if religion wasn’t one of them, but it is not the only one. Many other things have been used to gain power and control over others. Many other items have been a cause of conflict. Land, money, politics, nationalism, ethnic superiority, resources, all of these have been used to claim power and control.

Honestly, more often than not it is hard to isolate just one of these as the only reason for conflict. Even events like the Crusades are so mired in religious, political, and nationalistic issues it is hard to isolate just one issue that was the cause of them all. It is just more complicated than that. There will always be people out there who want power and control over others. Some have used and will continue to use religion as a means to do that. Others will use wealth, nationalism, politics or some other way to gain power or control over others.

I could probably go further with this, but I think that is enough. Do you think this makes sense? Agree? Disagree? I’d like to hear what you think. Thoughts from anyone who’s played the game? Thoughts on drawing themes like this from games?

We’re All Religious, But That’s Probably Not a Good Thing

When you hear the word religion what do you think of? More than likely it is something associated with an organized religion. You think of a church, God, and maybe some sort of holy book like the Bible. It is also quite possible that the concept of religion stirs up this negative sentiment in you. I can understand that sentiment, but at the same time I have news for us, we’re all religious. One of the definitions merriam-webster.com gives religion is “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.” Religion is as narrow as our own personal set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices and as wide as one of the major world religions. 

This is what perhaps irks me when religion is basically reduced down to the Christian religion. In the effort to have freedom from religious influence we forget that a religion is really a set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices. These attitudes, beliefs, and practices are usually centered around an important figure or figures, such as God, self, or family, or an important idea and/or ideas such as equality, peace, freedom, or money. This boils down to us all being religious in some way, shape, or form. Ones that are a bit more organized and accepting of the religion label like Christianity get kicked to the curb, while people don’t even notice religions that are centered around self, money, or the concept of freedom. It seems to some people tossing out the religion card simply gives them a free pass not to engage the ideas presented in an organized religion. The truth is that we are all as humans innately religious without even trying to be. We naturally form convictions and beliefs even if we’ve never officially associated with one of the “official” religions.

So at this point I’ve made my case, we’re all religious. We all have certain attitudes, beliefs, and practices. Some of us center them around God and his teaching, others maybe center them around a certain belief or person, while the rest probably don’t even really think like this they just do whatever seems like the right thing to do, or what they want to do. So why is this a bad thing? I’m sure many have heard or perhaps even said something like “religion is the cause of all evil.” Now this is usually tossed toward Christianity or Islam, but if all of us are religious then well I would have to agree with this statement. The problem with religions, whether they are our own personal thoughts, the thoughts of a great thinker, or the thoughts of God is that we can easily produce systems that are unyielding and are only really interested about our cause and think that the rest of the world can burn.

This can be seen in Christianity where people are more interested in the morality of Christianity and holding everyone to that, instead of displaying grace and mercy which is also pretty heavily taught. It can also be seen in the ones who cry out for equality for all people unless that person disagrees with their view. It can be displayed in the people who lift up tolerance as their guiding light and yet turn around and so easily resort to name calling under the belief that being intolerant to those I think are intolerant is okay. Ultimately, our religions become a religion where we only really care about the people who agree with us and maybe the people who are somewhat indifferent. Those who disagree, well you have no place here and we want nothing to do with you, in fact the world would be better off without you.

We are really unable to quarantine a portion of the population off as religious. Everybody is, you may accept it or you may not, but I’m not sure how you come to that conclusion. It may be a religion of one, or of a small group of friends, a local organization, or a worldwide organization but they’re all religions.