Re: Religion and Ethnocentrism

Richard G. Calo (rgcalo@EDEN.RUTGERS.EDU)
Wed, 10 Apr 1996 22:03:53 EDT

Jana Fortier writes:

> geez, here you men go again w/ your androcentric ways of knowing the world.
> one guy says "my religion is true" and the other distorts it into "my
> religion is the ONLY true [one]" !!! haven't you guys ever heard of
> multiple truths? how do you think we all teach anthro when there's a
> million origin stories out there? of course they're all true, because
> they're all subjectively defined truths. Even S. Kierkegaard wasnt that
> androcentric (remember he outline subjective and objective truth very

Thomas Brunton writes:

> I agree with Jana Fortier's response. And I think the prevailing
> assumption that any religious belief equals intolerance of other beliefs is
> untrue. I think extreme
> intolerance is a characteristic of most monotheistic religions and is or
> was less prevalent in pantheistic religions. People who had a particular
> patron deity that took care of them wouldn't necessarily be concerned it
> their neighbors had a different patron. Or look at ancient Rome, they
> tried to absorb the religions of subject peoples into their own schemes
> or allowed them to co-exist. They persecuted Christians because they
> defied the laws of the Empire, not because of their other beliefs.

You're right, of course. But the issue is not about a group's actions on
the basis of their belief-- i.e., on whether or not the Romans persecute
on account of the Christians' defiance of Roman Laws, or on account
of their religious beliefs. It is not even a question of intolerance, for
intolerance is but one of the modes in which belief might manifest itself.
The question, or issue-- at least as far as I see it-- more appropriately
deals with how a group identifies itself on the basis of its belief system,
and how its members also identify themselves with and within this group.
My claim, is that a component in this identification, requires a
complementary component which to some extent prohibits identification
with another's group. Moreover, the more removed the second group is
from one's own-- the more exotic their customs, language, etc.-- the less
identification there is. Thus, the person in my home town and
congregation belongs to my group; the person in the next town and
congregation is already outside my group; the person in a Belgian
town and Belgian congregation is still further removed from me; and
so on. But similarly, my patron deity is mine because there is something
(my belief-- pace, Douglass St. Christian-- the deity's truth, whatever)
which makes it be mine, or mine its. The other's patron diety is nothing
to me-- and that, of course, may be a problem, particularly if I participate
in a system a part of whose normal operation is to be intolerant.