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I might as well say that right from the start, so I'll get it out of my system. Because I was thinking about it throughout the entire book. Not many books make me think that way, and especially not non-fiction books. But it was truly an honor to read Fighting Words. An honor? Yeah, because I saw it as a privilege to learn what Avalos had to say.
And so much for all that. Now I really should focus on the contents of the book, right? Well, Hector Avalos, anthropologist and associate professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, has written a book about violence and its importance to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and if that wasn't enough, it's published by Prometheus Books, known to publish books that are - to say the least - quite skeptical towards religions at large.
Avalos uses a very straight-forward methodology. By applying what he calls the "scarce resource theory", he's able to demonstrate how the phenomenon of religion results in conflicts (violence) based on criteria that are unjustifiable and/or false. In other words, the teachings proposed by religious institutions can never be proven or justified, since religions can be defined as teachings using sources from supernatural beings or sources. Religious violence then turns out to be the most unnecessary of all violence, since the conflicts over the scarce resources fist and foremost are based on premises resulting from unjustified sources.
Even though Fighting Words is a brutal critique against religions in general and religious violence in particular, Avalos still is eager to point out that religions have their good sides, too.Read more ›
Hector Avalos, an anthropologist and avowed secular humanist, provides a scathing critique of religion and its relationship with violence. Avalos uses scarce resource theory in order to show that religion is inherently violent. The author, also, believes that religious violence is always immoral, but this is not necessarily the case for secular violence. In order to achieve these goals, Avalos employs an empirico-rationalist strategy and divides his work into four sections.
In Part I of his book, Avalos looks at historical understandings of the relationship between religion and violence. From Late Antiquity to the Enlightenment, the author outlines theories of violence that have been proposed by prominent intellectual and church leaders. Next, Avalos provides theories from several scientific disciplines in order to show the broad range of theories on violence: biological/evolutionary, psychological, sociological, anthropological, and military. He concludes this part by critiquing the current religious theories on the interaction between religion and violence, examining such authors as Girard, Juergensmeyer, Kimball, and Schwartz.
Part II begins by examining the history of scarce resource theory, first proposed by Thomas Malthus and adapted to cover power dynamics on the familial, national, and global scales. Avalos then proposes his theory: four main scarce resources, ultimately unverifiable or non-existent, have repeatedly generated violence from the inception of religion to the present. Access to divine communication, particularly through inscripturation, becomes scarce when not everyone has access to the communications, usually in writing. Sacred space becomes a scarce resource when not everyone has access to, or the ability to live in, a certain religious area.Read more ›
Avalos points out how so many academics as well as religious scholars simply refuse to deal with the reality of the three big monotheistic religions: they all support violence to support their own cause, to the detriment of anyone who opposes that cause.
Avalos simply will not surrender logic to support favored views of religion (as so many religious and atheistic acedemics do).
This is the second book I have read by Avalos. His works are a worthy contribution to the critique of religion. Highly recommended.
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As much as we all, American's and the entire world would like to believe that human nature is about viture and moral goodness. This life is very simple, acquiring wealth while avoiding the threat of violence from others; no wonder the world over loves FICTION. This book written by Avalos is not Fiction - far from ! this book places many unpleasant topics in a readable format for the left / right and middle of the road people. This book should be a must read as should be Machaevill's Price, Mostesquieu's, The Spirt of the Laws, Rousseau, Locke, Voltaire, Aristole's Nicomachean Ethics, Bacon's Essays, Nietzsche and Will Durant's the lessons of history and a few more books that place reason as sublime. best to you all in your studies !!!
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I appreciate the author's hypothesis that religion creates "scarce resources" in four ways: inscripturation, sacred space, privileging, and salvation. In other words: "My group possesses THE book of salvation (you don't)," "My group possesses THE space of miracles (you don't)," "My group possesses THE right to do XYZ (you don't)," and "My group possesses THE true belief (and we have to make you believe or we won't go to heaven)."
What I don't appreciate is that he drags the reader through examples that also support the hypothesis that (bad) people manipulate religious belief to enhance personal or state power.
I also appreciated his list of possible "solutions" although I don't agree with them and they came after wading through the whole book. Most especially I liked his "zero-tolerance" argument that "just as we should reject all of Mein Kampf because of its racist and genocidal policies, we should reject the Bible for any genocidal policies it ever endorsed" (pages 360-361). I like this argument because it forces one to look at the whole without making excuses for parts that don't fit. For me it brought to mind the saying of George Fox (paraphrased), "The disciples said this and the disciples said that, but what can you say from your experience of Christ?" I read this as: They spoke from their context, now I am called to stand on their shoulders to speak from mine.
I think this book would have been much better had the author attempted to make his case between the hypotheses 1) that religion itself gives rise to violence and 2) that people in power use "sacred resources" to manipulate populations, etc. I suppose technically he would have had to formally exclude all other possible causes from the analysis in order for it to remain readable - but at least we might have come to some conclusion as to which of these two were more likely the culprit.