Religion Presentation

Malcolm Hecht February 27, 2013 Classes, Contemporary Ecuador Cuenca view in flickr

My Presentation about Religion:


Dallmayr seeks out the fundamental properties of religion and its use in personal and social/political life. He starts with a rough definition of “religion,” describing it as something that is neither in the world, nor entirely absent from it. It is “a kind of bonding... a relatedness to a realm of goodness that lies beyond human approbation, manipulation, or control.” According to Dallmayr, in this rudimentary definition of religion there is nothing dangerous or harmful. Yet, in practice, religion has threatening tendencies, stemming from three different sources, which he calls the “politicization of religion,” the “privitization of religion,” and the “Manichean problem.” 

The historical trend of religion that is most common and damaging is its use as a tool used to obtain/maintain political power. The politicization of religion tends to repress the freedom thought (which Kant describes as a “sustained immaturity”) of the society under its control, and it leads to the eventual indictment of religion as a source of worldly evils. To support his argument, Dallmayr cites the history of the Abrahamic religions, Hinduism, Political Islam, and the contemporary Christian Right. 

The second (and more unlikely) harmful path that religion tends to take is the inward path to complete isolation from the troubles of the world. This tendency, according to Dallmayr, is dangerous as it negates the ability of religion to serve the social community. One would immediately think of the monastic paths of Buddhism and Christianity, but Dallmayr also points to the problematic “faith alone” principle of “Protestant Individualism.” Largely created and supported by Soren Kierkegaard and William James in the early 19th century, Protestent Individualism advises members of the religious community to look inward for the source of religious power, turning their eyes away from the exterior problems of the world. The Bible contradicts this individualistic message, advising that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead,” and Dallmayr points to the sources of Buddha’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s faith, which stemmed from (and aimed to transcend) the suffering of the external world.

The “Manichean Problem” comes from a negative reaction against religion and the greater concept of social virtue. Dallmayr cites the work of Reinhold Niebuhr and Hans Morgenthau, who believed that there is an “element of nature” in collective human behavior that is incapable of practicing moral good. Niebuhr argues that there is a difference between “moral and social behavior” of the individual. Morgenthau, as a pioneer of International Realism, concludes that there is infinite selfishness in the will to political power, and, hence, an inevitability of international power politics. Like the Privitization of Religion, Dallmayr finds the “Manichean problem” troublesome in the impossibility for humans to create good on a collective level, yet he believes that Niebuhr and Morgenthau are right to find that ethics can (and should be) separated from politics.

To conclude the chapter, Dallmayr attempts to make suggestions about the beneficial use of religion in the pursuit of peace and justice. According to Dallmayr, “justice,” a term long sought to be defined by the study of ethics, seems to involve a certain rejection of self-centered dispositions. He cites the work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King as examples of selfless justice, as prescribed by the Hindu Karma Yoga, the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, and the writings of Plato and Aristotle. Hence, justice is intertwined with the roots of religion, rejecting the selfish goal of political power, while maintaining a sympathetic connection with the suffering of human society as a means of creating a greater good.