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#1017 - July 25, 2004 05:14 PM News
Pathmarajah Offline
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Registered: July 22, 2004
Posts: 375
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http://www.swaveda.com/articles.php?action=show&id=49

Jul 23, 2004
Great Expectations: Hindu Revival Movements in
Java, Indonesia
by Thomas Reuter


Hindu empires had flourished in Java for a
millennium until they were
replaced by expanding Islamic polities in the 15th
century, setting
the stage for Indonesia becoming the world's largest
Muslim nation. In
the 1970s, however, a new Hindu revival movement
began to sweep across
the archipelago. Hinduism is gaining even greater
popularity at this
time of national crisis, most notably in Java, the political heart of
Indonesia. Based on preliminary ethnographic research in five
communities with major Hindu temples, this paper explores the
political history and social dynamics of Hindu revivalism in Java.
Rejecting formalist approaches to the study of religion, including the
notion of 'syncretism ', the Hindu revival movements of Java are
treated as an illustration of how social agents employ religious or
secular concepts and values in their strategic responses to the
particular challenges and crises they may face in a specific cultural,
social, political and historical setting.

Expectations of a great crisis at the imminent dawn of new golden age,
among followers of the Hindu revival movement in Java, are an
expression of utopian prophesies and political aspirations more widely
known and shared among contemporary Indonesians. These utopian
expectations are set to shape the prospects of Indonesia's fledgling
democracy. In this paper, I will reflect on the different historical
conditions under which these and similar utopian expectations and
associated social movements arise, and may either either incite
violent conflict or serve a positive role in the creation or
maintenance of a fair society.

My interest in Java is recent and arose inadvertently from nearly a
decade of earlier research on the neighboring island of Bali. The
majority of Balinese consider themselves descendants of noble warriors
from the Hindu Javanese empire Majapahit who conquered Bali in the
14th century. A growing number of Balinese are conducting pilgrimages
to Hindu temples in Java, most of which have been built in places
identified as sacred sites in traditional Balinese texts (often
written in Old-Javanese language). Balinese have been heavily involved
in the construction and ritual maintenance of these new Hindu temples
in Java. They further dominate organizations representing Hinduism at
a national level. Finally, many Javanese Hindu priests have been
trained in Bali.

I had the opportunity to gain a first hand impression of the expansion
of Hinduism in Java and of Balinese involvement therein during a field
trip in late 1999. Following preliminary ethnographic research in
eight different Hindu Javanese communities it became evident that this
movement has its own dynamics and rationale, no matter how much it may
have been spurred by Balinese support. Most thought-provoking,
perhaps, were the emotional accounts of events since 1965 leading up
to a resurgence of Hinduism, and the constant references to the famous
Javanese prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya.

On an earlier field trip in 1995, I was also able to visit central and
southern Kalimantan where a large Hindu movement has grown among the
local Ngaju Dayak population. The lead-up to a mass declaration for
'Hinduism' on this island was rather different to the Javanese case,
in that conversions followed a clear ethnic division. Indigenous Dayak
were confronted with a mostly Muslim population of
government-sponsored (and predominantly Javanese) migrants and
officials, and deeply resentful at the dispossession of their land and
its natural resources. Compared to their counterparts among Javanese
Hindus, many Dayak leaders were also more deeply concerned about
Balinese efforts to standardize Hindu ritual practice nationally;
fearing a decline of their own unique 'Hindu Kaharingan' traditions
and renewed external domination.

The Javanese Hindu revival movement is in many ways unique, and its
recent expansion may surprise a casual observer. Java is often viewed
as the headquarters of Islam within the world's most populous Muslim
nation. On its own, however, this superficial image fails to do
justice to the immensely complex and varied cultural history of this
island; a history that continues to exert a profound influence on
contemporary Javanese society. A glance at one of the many ancient
monuments scattered across its landscape would suffice to remind one
of a very different Java, where a succession of smaller and larger
Hindu kingdoms flourished for more than a millennium, producing a
unique and dynamic mixture of Indic and indigenous Austronesian
culture. At the peak of its influence in the 14th century the last and
largest among Hindu Javanese empires, Majapahit, reached far across
the Indonesian archipelago. This accomplishment is interpreted in
modern nationalist discourses as an early historical beacon of
Indonesian unity and nationhood, a nation with Java still at its
center.

That the vast majority of contemporary Javanese and Indonesians are
now Muslims is the outcome of a process of subsequent Islamization.
Like Hinduism before it, Islam first advanced into the archipelago
along powerful trade networks, gaining a firm foothold in Java with
the rise of early Islamic polities along the northern coast. Hinduism
finally lost its status as Java's dominant state religion during the
15th and early 16th century, as the new sultanates expanded and the
great Hindu empire Majapahit collapsed. Even then, some smaller Hindu
polities persisted; most notably the kingdom of Blambangan in eastern
Java, which remained intact until the late 18th century.

Islam met with a different kind of resistance at a popular and
cultural level. While the majority of Javanese did become 'Muslims',
following the example of their rulers, for many among them this was a
change in name only. Earlier indigenous Javanese and Hindu traditions
were retained by the rural population and even within the immediate
sphere of the royal courts, especially in a context of ritual
practice. In this sense, the victory of Islam has remained incomplete
until today.

To proclaim on these grounds that Javanese religion, or any other
religion, is a product of 'syncretism' is to say no more than that it
has a history, as every religion inevitably does. Given that history
has no definite beginning, 'syncretism' has been a feature in all
world religions from the start.[1] Even a more modest distinction
between degrees of 'syncretism' or 'orthodoxy' in the religions of
different societies, or in those of the same society at different
times in its history, is rather unproductive unless this or similar
distinctions are situated in relation to much broader historical
processes affecting the societies concerned as a whole. A process of
religious 'rationalization' (in the Weberian sense), in particular,
may needs to be situated within a broader context of modernity.

Insofar as it is justifiable to speak of a trend toward increasing
'orthodoxy' in Indonesian Islam in the 20th century, a trend which
applies similarly to Indonesian Hinduism and Christianity, this
phenomenon must be assessed against the historical background of
colonialism, the subsequent establishment of an independent Indonesian
state, and the advent of modernity. In the colonial and post-colonial
era, an ever more popular and educated acceptance of Islam was gained,
in Java and elsewhere, through the work of independent or government
Islamic organizations with an anti-colonial and modernist
socio-political orientation. In the wake of this still continuing
process of rationalization, a conceptual potential has been created
for greater socio-political polarization among the followers of
different and, now, more precisely distinguishable 'religions'.
Nevertheless, the more orthodox among Javanese Muslims, who tend to
identify themselves with a more modern and global notion of Islamic
religion, are still a minority and are themselves divided into
factions (for example, over the issue of whether to aspire toward a
secular or an Islamic Indonesian state). Most recently these divisions
became apparent during the dismissal of President Wahid on charges of
incompetency.

To a large and growing number of equally 'modern' Javanese, however,
their ancient Hindu past is still very present indeed, and prophesied
to come alive once more in the near future. A utopian Hindu revival
movement has emerged in Java over the last three decades of the
twentieth century, and is gathering momentum in the turmoil of
Indonesia's continuing economic and political crisis. Drawing on
ancient prophesies, many of its members believe that a great natural
cataclysm or final battle is at hand in which Islam will be swept from
the island to conclude the current age of darkness. Thereafter, they
say, Hindu civilization will be restored to its former glory - with
Java as the political center of a new world order that will last for a
thousand years.

Adding to the concern of Muslim observers, the Javanese Hindu movement
is part of a wider national phenomenon of Hindu revivalism and
expansion. Situated at the heart of Indonesia, however, the Hindu
movement in Java may have the most serious implications yet for the
social and political stability of the nation as a whole. In addition,
the same mood of apocalyptic fear, utopian expectation and revivalist
zeal is shared by many Javanese Muslims. This is made evident in a
number of revivalist Islamic movements, whose members also tend to
describe the present as an age of moral and social decay.

Recent incidents of inter-religious violence in the Moluccas and
Lombok, and the major importance afforded to religious affiliation in
Indonesia's recent parliamentary and 1998 presidential elections are
both indicative of a national trend towards religious polarization
(Ramstedt 1998). Such polarization has not been characteristic of
Javanese society, particularly at a community level, where
neighborhood cooperation and social peace have been valued more highly
than religious convictions (Beatty 1999). With nominal Muslims now
openly converting to Hinduism this could well change, tearing away at
the delicate web of compromises that is the very fabric of Javanese
society. On a more positive note, Indonesians of all confessions also
share an urgent desire for political reform and genuine democracy, and
may still be prepared to cooperate in the struggle to achieve this
common aim.

The emergence of a self-conscious Hindu revival movement within
Javanese society is thus a highly significant development. The
following preliminary outline of this movement is to provide an
appraisal of some of the deep social divisions and widely shared
utopian aspirations in contemporary Indonesian society which are set
to shape the immediate future of this fragile nation.


Hindu Revivalism in Historical and Political Context

While many Javanese have retained aspects of their indigenous and
Hindu traditions through the centuries of Islamic influence, under the
banner of 'Javanist religion' (kejawen) or a non-orthodox 'Javanese
Islam' (abangan, cf. Geertz 1960), no more than a few isolated
communities have consistently upheld Hinduism as the primary mark of
their public identity. One of these exceptions are the people of the
remote Tengger highlands (Hefner 1985, 1990) in the province of
Eastern Java. The Javanese 'Hindus' with whom this paper is concerned,
however, are those who had officially declared themselves 'Muslims'
prior to their recent
conversion to Hinduism.

In an unpublished report in 1999, the National Indonesian Bureau of
Statistics tacitly admits that nearly 100.000 Javanese have officially
converted or 'reconverted' from Islam to Hinduism over the last two
decades. At the same time, the East Javanese branch of the government
Hindu organization PHDI (below) in an annual report claims the 'Hindu
congregation' (umat hindu) of this province to have grown by 76000
souls in this year alone. The figures are not entirely reliable or
objective, nor can they adequately reflect the proportions of Java's
new Hindu revival movement, based as they are on the religion stated
on people's identity cards (kartu tanda penduduk or 'KTP') or on other
measures of formal religious affiliation. According to my own
observations, many conversions are informal only, at least for now. In
addition, formal figures often do not adequately distinguish between
religious conversions and general population growth, given that most
government agencies only record people's religion at birth.

Problems with estimating rates of conversion aside, it is remarkable
that despite their local minority status the total number of Hindus in
Java now exceeds that of Hindus in Bali. Data collected independently
during my preliminary research in Eastern Java further suggest that
the rate of conversion accelerated dramatically during and after the
collapse of former President Suharto's authoritarian regime in 1998.

Officially identifying their religion as Hinduism was not a legal
possibility for Indonesians until 1962, when it became the fifth
state-recognized religion.[2] This recognition was initially sought by
Balinese religious organizations and granted for the sake of Bali,
where the majority were Hindu. The largest of these organizations,
Parisada Hindu Dharma Bali, changed its name to P.H.D. Indonesia
(PHDI) in 1964, reflecting subsequent efforts to define Hinduism as a
national rather than just a Balinese affair (Ramstedt 1998). In the
early seventies, the Toraja people of Sulawesi were the first to
realize this opportunity by seeking shelter for their indigenous
ancestor religion under the broad umbrella of 'Hinduism', followed by
the Karo Batak of Sumatra in 1977 and the Ngaju Dayak of Kalimantan in
1980 (Bakker 1995).

Religious identity became a life and death issue for many Indonesians
around the same time as Hinduism gained recognition, namely, in the
wake of the violent anti-Communist purge of 1965-66 (Beatty 1999).
Persons lacking affiliation with a state recognized-religion tended to
be classed as atheists and hence as communist suspects. Despite the
inherent disadvantages of joining a national religious minority, a
deep concern for the preservation of their traditional ancestor
religions made Hinduism a more palatable option than Islam for several
ethnic groups in the outer islands. By contrast, most Javanese were
slow to consider Hinduism at the time, lacking a distinct organization
along ethnic lines and fearing retribution from locally powerful
Islamic organizations like the Nahdatul Ulama (NU). The youth wing of
the NU had been active in the persecution not only of communists but
of 'Javanist' or 'anti-Islamic' elements within Sukarno's Indonesian
Nationalist Party (PNI) during the early phase of the killings (Hefner
1987). Practitioners of 'Javanist' mystical traditions thus felt
compelled to declare themselves Muslims out of a growing concern for
their safety.

The initial assessment of having to abandon 'Javanist' traditions in
order to survive in an imminent Islamic state proved incorrect.
President Sukarno's eventual successor, Suharto, adopted a distinctly
nonsectarian approach in his so-called 'new order' (orde baru) regime.
Old fears resurfaced, however, with Suharto's 'Islamic turn' in the
1990s. Initially a resolute defender of Javanist values, Suharto began
to make overtures to Islam at that time, in response to wavering
public and military support for his government. A powerful signal was
his authorization and personal support of the new 'Association of
Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals' (ICMI), an organization whose members
openly promoted the Islamization of Indonesian state and society
(Hefner 1997). Concerns grew as ICMI became the dominant civilian
faction in the national bureaucracy, and initiated massive programs of
Islamic education and mosque-building through the Ministry of Religion
(departemen agama), once again targeting Javanist strongholds. Around
the same time, there were a series of mob killings by Muslim
extremists of people they suspected to have been practicing
traditional Javanese methods of healing by magical means.

Repeated experiences of harassment or worse have left adherents of
Javanist traditions with deep-seated fears and resentments. In
interviews conducted in 1999, recent Hindu converts in eastern and
central Java confessed that they had felt comfortable with a tenuous
Islamic identity until 1965, but that their 'hearts turned bitter'
once they felt coerced to disavow their private commitment to 'Hindu
Javanese ' traditions by abandoning the specific ritual practices
which had come to be associated therewith. In terms of their political
affiliation, many contemporary Javanists and recent converts to
Hinduism had been members of the old PNI, and have now joined the new
nationalist party of Megawati Sukarnoputri. Informants from among this
group portrayed their return to the 'religion of Majapahit' (Hinduism)
as a matter of nationalist pride, and displayed a new sense political
self-confidence. Political trends aside, however, the choice between
Islam and Hinduism is often a highly personal matter. Many converts
reported that other members of their families have remained 'Muslims',
out of conviction or in the hope that they will be free to maintain
their Javanist traditions in one way or another.

These observations provide no more than a preliminary sketch of the
changing landscape of cross-cutting and sometimes contradictory
social, political and religious identities wherein the Javanese Hindu
revival movement is taking shape. In essence, the collapse of the
authoritarian Suharto regime has allowed old rivalries between Islamic
and Nationalist parties to resurface in a changed environment and in a
new guise. This has led to a degree of socio-political polarization as
has not been seen since the 1960s revolution, although it may have
been an inherent conceptual possibility throughout modern Indonesian
history.


Hindu Revivalism in Social and Economic Context

A common feature among new Hindu communities in Java is that they tend
to rally around recently built temples (pura) or around archaeological
temple sites (candi) which are being reclaimed as places of Hindu
worship. One of several new Hindu temples in eastern Java is Pura
Mandaragiri Sumeru Agung, located on the slope of Mt Sumeru, Java's
highest mountain. When the temple was completed in July 1992, with the
generous aid of wealthy donors from Bali, only a few local families
formally confessed to Hinduism. A pilot study in December 1999
revealed that the local Hindu community now has grown to more than
5000 households. Similar mass conversions have occurred in the region
around Pura Agung Blambangan, another new temple, built on a site with
minor archaeological remnants attributed to the kingdom of Blambangan,
the last Hindu polity on Java. A further important site is Pura Loka
Moksa Jayabaya (in the village of Menang near Kediri), where the Hindu
king and prophet Jayabaya is said to have achieved spiritual
liberation (moksa). A further Hindu movement in the earliest stages of
development was observed in the vicinity of the newly completed Pura
Pucak Raung (in the Eastern Javanese district of Glenmore), which is
mentioned in Balinese literature as the place where the Hindu saint
Maharishi Markandeya gathered followers for an expedition to Bali,
whereby he is said to have brought Hinduism to Bali in the fifth
century AD. An example of resurgence around major archaeological
remains of ancient Hindu temple sites was observed in Trowulan near
Mojokerto. The site may be the location of the capital of the
legendary Hindu empire Majapahit. A local Hindu movement is struggling
to gain control of a newly excavated temple building which they wish
to see restored as a site of active Hindu worship. The temple is to be
dedicated to Gajah Mada, the man attributed with transforming the
small Hindu kingdom of Majapahit into an empire. Although there has
been a more pronounced history of resistance to Islamization in East
Java, Hindu communities are also expanding in Central Java (Lyon
1980), for example in Klaten, near the ancient Hindu monuments of
Prambanan.

It is a common feature of social organization in neighboring Bali to
find temples at the hub of various networks of social affiliation
(Reuter 1998). Temples may be equally important for Hindu Javanese,
though for different reasons. Clear ethnic or clan-like divisions are
generally lacking in Javanese society, and in any case, would be too
exclusive to promote a rapid expansion of new Hindu communities. How
social relations take shape within the support networks of Javanese
Hindu temples and how they differ from those among patrons of Balinese
temples remains to be explored, as is also true of the ritual practice
of Javanese Hindus. Some of the resemblances observed so far seem to
reflect not only the common historical influence of Hinduism in Java
and Bali, but also a common indigenous cultural heritage shared among
these and other Austronesian-speaking societies (Fox & Sathers 1996).

Taking Pura Sumeru as an example, it is also important to note that
major Hindu temples can bring a new prosperity to local populations.
Apart from employment in the building, expansion, and repair of the
temple itself, a steady stream of Balinese pilgrims to this now
nationally recognized temple has led to the growth of a sizeable
service industry. Ready-made offerings, accommodation, and meals are
provided in an ever-lengthening row of shops and hotels along the main
road leading to Pura Sumeru. At times of major ritual activity tens of
thousands of visitors arrive each day. Pilgrims' often generous cash
donations to the temple also find their way into the local economy.
Pondering with some envy on the secret to the economic success of
their Balinese neighbors, several local informants concluded that
"Hindu culture may be more conducive to the development of an
international tourism industry than is Islam". Economic considerations
also come into play insofar as members of this and other Hindu revival
movements tend to cooperate in a variety of other ways, including
private business ventures which are unrelated to their joint religious
practices as such.


Hindu Revivalism as a Utopian Movement

Followers and opponents alike explain the sudden rise of a Hindu
revival movement in Java by referring to the well-known prophecies of
Sabdapalon and Jayabaya. In this they reveal a number of shared
utopian and apocalyptic expectations, even though their
interpretations of the prophesies differ significantly. These mixed
expectations have been a reflection of growing popular dissatisfaction
with the corrupt and dictatorial Suharto government in the 1990s and
until its demise in 1998, following student riots and popular
demonstrations in many major Javanese cities in the wake of the Asian
economic crisis. They also draw inspiration from a deeper crisis of
political and economic culture still current in Indonesia today. The
Indonesia's present first democratically elected government under
President Abdurahman Wahid's leadership again has attracted criticism,
increasingly so in during recent months, as the nation continueds to
be threatened by religious conflict, secession movements in Aceh and
West Papua, and by government corruption scandals.[3] Under the new
presidency of Megawati Sukarnoputri (from 23 July 2001) this sense of
political instability is widely expected to persist. At the same time
many also fear a possible return to the repression of the Suharto
years. It is the prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya that provide
perhaps the most ready vehicle for the interpretation of these
tumultuous political events, to the members of Hindu revival movements
as well as their opponents. The prophesies of Sabdapalon and Jayabaya
provide a ready vehicle for the interpretation of these events, to the
members of Hindu revival movements as well as their opponents.

Sabdapalon is said to have been a priest and an adviser to Brawijaya
V, the last ruler of the Hindu empire Majapahit. He is also said to
have cursed his king upon the conversion of the latter to Islam in
1478. Sabdapalon then promised to return, after 500 years and at a
time of widespread political corruption and natural disasters, to
sweep Islam from the island and restore Hindu-Javanese religion and
civilization. Some of the first new Hindu temples built in Java were
indeed completed around 1978, for example Pura Blambangan in the
regency of Banyuwangi. As the prophesies foretold, Mt Sumeru erupted
around the same time. All this is taken as evidence of the accuracy of
Sabdapalon's predictions. Islamic opponents of the Hindu movements
accept the prophesies, at least in principle, though their
interpretations differ. Some attribute the Hindu conversions to a
temporary weakness within Islam itself, laying blame on the
materialism of modern life, on an associated decline of Islamic
values, or on the persistent lack of orthodoxy among practitioners of
'Javanese Islam' (Soewarno 1981). In their opinion, the 'return of
Sabdapalon' is meant to test Islam and to propel its followers toward
a much needed revitalization and purification of their faith.

A further prophesy, well-known throughout Java and Indonesia, is the
Ramalan (or Jangka) Jayabaya. A recent publication on these prophesies
by Soesetro & Arief (1999) has become a national best seller. The
predictions of Jayabaya are also discussed frequently in daily
newspapers. These ancient prophesies, indeed, are very much a part of
a current public debate on the ideal shape of a new and genuinely
democratic Indonesia.

The historical personage Sri Mapanji Jayabaya reigned over the kingdom
of Kediri in East Java from 1135 to 1157 AD (Buchari 1968:19). He is
known for his efforts to reunify Java after a split had occurred with
the death of his predecessor Airlangga, for his just and prosperous
rule, and for his dedication to the welfare of the common people.
Reputed to have been an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu,
Jayabaya is also the archetypal image of the 'just king' (ratu adil)
who is reborn during the dark age of reversal (jaman edan) at the end
of each cosmic cycle to restore social justice, order, and harmony in
the world. Many believe that the time for the arrival of a new ratu
adil is near (as the prophesies put it, "when iron wagons drive
without horses and ships sail through the sky [i.e. cars and
airplanes]"), and that he will come to rescue and reunite Indonesia
after an acute crisis, ushering in the dawn of a new golden age. These
apocalyptic and utopian expectations evoke the notion of a revolving
cosmic cycle, of a glorious past declining into a present state of
moral decay, where the ideal order of things is momentarily inverted,
only to be restored again in a future that is in effect a return to
the past.

Hindu Javanese emphasize with pride that their ancestors Sabdapalon
and Jayabaya represent a golden pre-Islamic age. Islamic opponents, in
turn, claim that Jayabaya was in fact a Muslim and that Sabdapalon had
only resisted conversion because what he was confronted with at the
time was but a muddled and impure version of Islam (Soewarno 1981).
Nevertheless, Muslim and Hindu interpreters agree that this is the
time of reckoning, of major political reform if not a revolution. They
also tend to agree that a truly democratic system of government may
only be realized with the help of a leader of the highest moral
caliber, thus blending modern notions of democracy with traditional
notions of charismatic leadership.

That the prophesies of Jayabaya are of profound significance to
Indonesians of very different persuasion and from all walks of life is
illustrated by the secret visits (once before he was nominated as a
presidential candidate and again before his election) of President
Abdurahman Wahid (then head of the NU) to the ancestral origin temple
of Raja Jayabaya in Bali, the remote mountain sanctuary Pura Pucak
Penulisan.[4] After a solitary nocturnal devotion at this ancient
Hindu temple, as local priests told me, Gus Dur (the president's
popular nickname) spoke with them at length about Jayabaya's
prophesies and the imminent arrival of a new ratu adil. Opponents of
Gus Dur have prefered to identify his government with another passage
in the prophesies, which refer to "a king whose [interim] rule shall
last no longer than the life span of a maize plant".

In conversations in Java and Bali in late 1999, I was continuously
struck by the spirited political idealism of my informants, and their
readiness even to risk their lives in the pursuit of political reform.
It was sobering to note that they were envisaging for their Indonesia
of the future so ideal a system of government as even western
democracies could not claim to have achieved so far. I became rather
concerned as well, in contemplating a very different attitude of
cynicism and a sense of futility that now seems to permeate political
life in western societies, and is reflected in the decline of popular
participation and the silent attrition of important democratic
institutions, such as independent universities (Ellingsen 1999).
Studying Hindu revivalism in Java, in particular, reminded me also of
persistent utopian and apocalyptic undertones in western scientific
and technological worldviews, such as the early utopian predictions of
a new cyber-democracy among Internet users and the more recent
apocalyptic hysteria about the 'Y2K' computer bug.


Implications

The study of 'revival', 'millenarian', 'cargo-cult' or 'revolutionary'
movements has a long and somewhat controversial history in the social
sciences (Schwartz 1987). A common feature identified in studies of
such movements is the linking of apocalyptic and utopian expectations,
suggesting a tendency for people to readily believe what they most
fear or wish to be true. Most analysts have stressed the ease with
which charismatic and authoritarian leader figures can exploit such
powerful beliefs and sentiments (Adorno 1978), and how mass
manipulation may precipitate self-destructive behavior, such as
collective suicide, or bizarre acts of violence. At the same time,
social theory has produced its own visions of apocalypse and utopia,
Karl Marx' prophesy of a 'final class struggle' and subsequent
'class-less society' being the most prominent among them.

In both cases, the lingering impression is that highly fatalistic or
idealistic social movements are dangerous and destructive in the
extreme. This is often true enough, but not necessarily so. Utopian
expectations as such, judging by the original meaning of the word
utopia ('no-place'), do not suggest a need for a single radical change
so much as a continuous process of reform; a striving towards an ideal
that ultimately can not be located or reached. As for apocalypticism,
much may depend on whether it has some rational foundation. This may
well be the case in Indonesia, now poised, as it is, at a significant
historical juncture.[5]

A fundamental problem and simultaneously a source of inspiration for
this field of social research has been the immense variability within
the class of phenomena it seeks to describe. In the absence of a
comprehensive theoretical framework that would serve to identify major
categories of historical, political or situational variables in the
genesis, development and outcomes of such apocalyptic or utopian
movements, reporters and researchers alike are often seduced into
focusing instead on their more obscure and sensational
features.Although there have been repeated attempts to draw this
research together under the umbrella of a single paradigm, such as
Smelser's (1962) proposal for a more general category of
'value-focused social movements', discussion continues to be
frustrated by disagreements on matters of definition and terminology.
This problem pertains to discussions both across and within the
boundaries of contributing disciplines, including anthropology,
political science, sociology, social psychology and comparative
religion. A review of the extensive and varied literature on
millenarian movements is beyond the scope of this paper.

Under these adverse conditions, most attempts to transcend the
specificity of particular apocalyptic or millenarian movements have
been geographically or culturally restricted, and taken shape in
discussions among groups of area specialists. The more significant
among recent advances in the field, on the basis of such regional
comparisons, have come from anthropological research on 'cargo-cult'
movements in Papua New Guinea (Stewart 2000) and on 'endtime'
movements in America (Stewart & Harding 1999).

This regional focusing of the discussion has paid dividends as an
interim solution, but it also has detracted attention from a broader
anthropological project of understanding idealistic social movements
as a possible modality of social change in all human societies. While
the notion of 'millenarian movements' has become a kind of gateway
concept for researchers in PNG and the USA, for example, those working
in other regions may pay very little attention to the same topic even
though they may have cause to do so. Indonesia is one of these more or
less neglected regions, with only a small minority of scholars caring
to comment on millenarian movements and their recent proliferation
(including Lee 1999, Timmer 2000).

Collaboration among fellow Indonesianists will be essential for any
future attempt to raise the level of comparative research on this
topic to the same high standard that has been achieved elsewhere. Even
then, such a regional research project must be firmly anchored in a
general anthropological theory. Without such a broader comparative
framework to bridge the gaps between regional studies, the latter may
deteriorate, for example, into neo-colonial discourses about the
'inherent madness' of Indonesia or other non-western societies. This
particular objection has been raised most vehemently in recent
critiques of 'cargo-cult'
studies (Lindstrom 1993, Kaplan 1995).

While Javanese Hindu revivalism may serve as my privileged example, an
important future aim is to develop a more general theoretical approach
to 'value-oriented social movements', on the basis of four hypothesis.
Namely, that these movements; 1) can occur in all human societies, 2)
are an extreme manifestation or response to social change, 3) are
informed by radical some forms of 'religious' or 'secular' idealism,
and 4) are accompanied by a heightened self-awareness among
participants of being 'agents' or 'witnesses' of societal change.
These different dimensions of idealist social movements are assumed to
be interconnected. A heightened sense of agency and reflexivity, for
example, may reflect in different ways on underlying material and
symbolic interests that have been frustrated or denied to broad or
narrow sectors of the society concerned.

The link between value-based social movements and the general
phenomena of 'socio-cultural change' and 'reproduction' is a crucial
issue, and it is both complex and variable. As a force operating
within underdetermined and mutable socio-cultural worlds with limited
cohesion such movements can not be adequately described, by evoking
the metaphor of a homeostatic 'system', as either 'functional' or
'dysfunctional'. Even if we were to define cultural reproduction and
change more cautiously, as different takes on a single and largely
unpredictable historical process, some of these movements may appear
to be exerting a 'reactionary' influence while others are more
'radical' or a combination of both. Expressions of social critique (in
relation to society as it is or is perceived) are a common theme in
the discourses produced within different value-oriented social
movements. But we may also find combinations of restorative or
visionary idealism, in different proportions, depending on whether the
critique is focused on undesirable change or undesirable stagnation in
the society concerned.

In evaluating the significance of Hindu revivalism and similar
movements in Java for the stability and future development of
Indonesian democracy, it is thus of the utmost importance to adopt a
balanced view of processes of social change and their implications.
The acute danger normally attributed to rapid social change in general
and to idealistic social movements in particular must be weighed
against the less sensational dangers of political inactivity, cynicism
and complacency. Rather than casting a condescending judgement on the
state of Indonesian society, the current proliferation of
millenarianism therein must be evaluated within the context of a
critical project of cross-cultural comparison. In this context, it may
be worth pointing to the current "anti-globalization" movement in
western countries, for this movement too serves as a reminder: The
creation of a just society is a continuous, often circular, and still
unfinished project, as much for us as it is for the people of
Indonesia.


Footnotes

[1] Islam, for example, incorporated elements from the tribal
traditions of Arab peoples and from Jewish and Christian texts such as
the 'Old Testament'.

[2] The other four state-recognized religions (agama) are Islam,
Catholicism, Protestantism, and Buddhism (mainly Indonesians of
Chinese ethnicity). Unrecognized religions are categorized by the
state as minor
'streams of belief' (aliran kepercayaan) or are simply treated as a
part of different local 'customs and traditions' (adat).

[3] As I am writing this, parliamentary procedures have been set into
motion so as to impeach President Abdurahman Wahid on allegations of
his involvement in corruption scandals.

[4] Pura Pucak Penulisan is still an important regional temple, and
was a state temple of Balinese kings from the eighth century AD
(Reuter 1998). Many statues of Balinese kings are still found in its
inner sanctum, including one depicting Airlangga's younger brother
Anak Wungsu. Literary sources suggest that intimate ties of kinship
connected the royal families of Bali with the dynasties of Eastern
Javanese kingdoms, including Kediri. Jayabaya's predecessor Airlannga,
for example, was a Balinese prince.

[5] Sometimes apocalyptic expectations can reach such a pitch that
members of the movement concerned may feel a need to bring about the
very cataclysm the have been predicting. The poison gas attack in
Tokyo launched by Japan's AUM Shinokio sect is a recent example. It is
still uncertain whether the recent bomb attacks on Javanese Christian
churches over the christmas period of 2000 were the responsibility of
radical religious groups, or were instigated by other political
interest groups wishing to destabilize the country by inciting
simmering inter-religious conflicts in Java to the same level of
violence as in the troubled Molukka Province.

References

Adorno, T. W. 1978. 'Freudian Theory and the Pattern of Fascist
Propaganda'. In A. Arato & E. Gebhardt (eds), The Essential Frankfurt
School Reader. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Bakker, F. 1995. Bali in the Indonesian State in the 1990s: The
religious aspect. Paper presented at the Third International Bali
Studies Workshop, 3-7 July 1995.

Beatty, A. 1999. Varieties of Javanese Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.

Buchari 1968. 'Sri Maharaja Mapanji Garasakan'. Madjalah Ilmu-Ilmu
Sastra Indonesia, 1968(4):1-26.

Ellingsen, P. 1999. 'Silence on Campus: How academics are being gagged
as universities toe the corporate line'. Melbourne: The Age Magazine,
11.12.1999:26-32.

Fox, J. & Sathers, C. (eds) 1996. Origins, Ancestry and Alliance:
Explorations in Austronesian Ethnography. Canberra: Department of
Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian
National University.

Geertz, C. 1960. The Religion of Java. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press.

Hefner, R. 1985. Hindu Javanese: Tengger Tradition and Islam.
Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hefner, R. 1987. 'The Political Economy of Islamic Conversion in
Modern East Java'. In W. Roff (ed.), Islam and the Political Economy
of Meaning. London: Croom Helm.

Hefner, R. 1990. The Political Economy of Mountain Java. Berkeley:
University of California Press.

Hefner, R. 1997. 'Islamization and Democratization in Indonesia'. In
R. Hefner & P. Horvatich (eds), Islam in an Era of Nation States:
Politics and Religious Renewal in Muslim Southeast Asia. Honolulu:
University of Hawaii Press.

Kaplan, M. 1995. Neither Cargo nor Cult: Ritual Politics and the
Colonial Imagination in Fiji. Durham (NC): Duke University Press.

Lee, K. 1999. A Fragile Nation: The Indonesian Crisis. River Edge
(N.J.): World Scientific.

Lindstrom, L. 1993. Cargo Cult: Strange Stories of Desire from
Melanesia and Beyond. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Lyon, M. 1980. 'The Hindu Revival in Java". In J. Fox (ed.),
Indonesia: The making of a Culture. Canberra: Research School of
Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

Ramstedt, M. 1998. 'Negotiating Identity: 'Hinduism' in Modern
Indonesia'. Leiden: IIAS Newsletter, 17:50.

Reuter, T. 1998. 'The Banua of Pura Pucak Penulisan: A Ritual Domain
in the Highlands of Bali'. Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs,
32 (1):55-109.

Schwartz, H. 1987. 'Millenarianism: An overview'. In M. Eliade (ed.),
The Encyclopedia of Religion, Vol. 9:521-532. New York: MacMillan.

Smelser, J. 1962. Theory of Collective Behavior. London: Routledge and
Kegan Paul.

Soesetro, D. & Arief, Z. 1999. Ramalan Jayabaya di Era Reformasi.
Yogyakarta: Media Pressindo.

Soewarna, M. 1981. Ramalan Jayabaya Versi Sabda Palon. Jakarta: P.T Yudha
Gama.

Stewart, K. & Harding, S. 1999. 'Bad Endings: American Apocalypsis'.
Annual Review of Anthropology 28:285-310.

Stewart, P.J. 2000. 'Introduction: Latencies and realizations in
millennial practices'. Ethnohistory 47(1):3-27. [Special Issue on
Millenarian Movements.]

Timmer, J. 2000. 'The return of the kingdom: Agama and the millennium
among the Imyan of Irian Jaya, Indonesia'. . Ethnohistory 47(1):29-65.

Note: Dr Thomas Reuter is Queen Elizabeth II Research Fellow at the
University of Melbourne's School of Anthropology, Geography &
Environmental Studies. This paper was published in The Australian
Journal of Anthropology and is being reproduced with their permission.

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#1018 - February 18, 2005 12:22 AM Re: News
Pathmarajah Offline
Member

Registered: July 22, 2004
Posts: 375
Loc: Penang
Guardian


U.N.: World's Population Is Aging Rapidly

Guardian
Thursday February 17, 2005
By LEYLA LINTON
Associated Press Writer

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Half the world's population will live in cities in two years, the U.N. chief said Wednesday, adding that the number of elderly people is rising rapidly, prompting a need for economic and social changes.

The biggest problem for developing countries was high mortality rates, while wealthy countries faced falling birth rates and the decline in the working-age population, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report to the U.N. Economic and Social Council.

Annan said the population of all countries will continue to age substantially, but the increase will be faster in developing countries and social security systems that depend on workers to pay for those who are retired will be affected.

``Such rapid growth will require far-reaching economic and social adjustments in most countries,'' he said.
More people also are living in cities, the report found. It predicted that half the world will live in urban areas by 2007. In less developed regions, the number of urban dwellers will equal the number of rural dwellers by 2017, the report said.
The United States is the most highly urbanized area of the world with 87 percent of its population living in cities. Latin America and the Caribbean followed, with 78 percent of the population living in urban areas, the report said.

In 1950 only two cities had 10 million inhabitants or more: the New York, Newark, N.J., area with a population of 12.3 million and Tokyo with 11.3 million.
Today, the report said, 20 cities have more than 10 million inhabitants.
The 10 cities with the biggest populations are: Tokyo with 35.3 million; Mexico City with 19.2 million; New York-Newark with 18.5 million; Bombay, India, with 18.3 million; Sao Paulo, Brazil, with 18.3 million; New Delhi with 15.3 million; Calcutta, India, with 14.3 million; Buenos Aires, Argentina, with 13.3 million; Jakarta, Indonesia, with 13.2 million; and Shanghai, China, with 12.7 million.
The report also highlighted the aging of the population, saying there were 600 million people over the age of 60 in 2000, three times the number in 1950, and that figure was expected to triple again over the next 50 years to around 2 billion elderly.

The average number of children a woman gives birth to, meanwhile, declined from five around thirty years ago to three by the beginning of this century, the report said.
Mortality declined sharply during the 20th century, except in Africa, which has been hard hit by the AIDS epidemic, Annan said.

Overall, the world's population reached 6.5 billion in 2005 and could stabilize at 9 billion just after 2050, Annan said.

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#1019 - May 28, 2005 11:50 AM Re: News
webmaster Offline
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Registered: February 07, 2010
Posts: 1030
Loc: KL
http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/5967_1378427,001600060001.htm

First Hindu-Maya cultural dialogue in Guatemala

Lalit K Jha (HindustanTimes.Com)

Minneapolis, May 27, 2005


The Mayans of Guatemala - representative of the Maya civilization
that flourished during the first millennium AD in Central America -
believe their ancestors came to this part of the globe 20,000 years
ago from the East.

One of the most dominant ethnic groups, Kekichi Maya, has always had
special attraction for India in the past as their forefathers have
told them that the "Naga tribes of Nagaland" were one of the four
original branches of the Maya civilization.

It is for these reasons and the similarities between the Aryan and
Mayan civilizations, the people of Guatemala for long have been
trying to establish contact with Indians and have a cultural dialogue.

The first such dialogue formally gets going at Maya Village, Lake
Atitlan in Guatemala on May 29. Lake Atitlan is famous for its
natural beauty and colourful Mayan villages.

A 16-member delegation of intellectuals, academicians and scholars
from six countries - mainly people of Indian origin - left Houston in
Texas for the Guatemala City on May 27 to participate in the two day
conference on "Hindu -Maya Cultural Similarities".

The conference is organized by the Council of Elders of the Sacred
Mayas, Guatemala in collaboration with the International Centre for
Cultural Studies, a non-profit organization based in the US.

The Council of Elders is an umbrella organization of all the 23
different Maya groups in Guatemala and is responsible for controlling
the tribal life of the people. "The conference would look at
similarities in these cultures and traditions, besides conducting
workshops on ceremonies of these traditions," Yashwant Pathak, global
coordinator of International Centre for Cultural Studies, told
HindustanTimes.com.

Giving details of the conference, Pathak said on May 29 the Hindu
delegation comprising of members from countries like India, the US,
Britain, Trinidad and Guyana would be given a traditional Mayan
welcome followed by lecture on the culture and tradition of their
civilization.

"On the second day, we would present our papers, besides show them
how a traditional Hindu welcome is with tilak and aarti. Later in
the afternoon, we would also conduct a Vedic yagna. We are taking all
the necessary things with us for the conference," Pathak said.

Before the conclusion of the two-day conference, members of the two
delegations would tie "Rakhi" to each other. "This would represent
the permanent brotherhood between the two ancient civilizations of
the world and also that we would protect tradition and culture of
each other," Pathak said.

The Hindu-delegation is also scheduled to meet the Noble peace prize
winner, Rigoberta Menchu, a Mayan Indian. In 1992, she won the prize
in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural
reconciliation based on respect for rights of indigenous people.

After the conference, the Hindu delegation would proceed on a five
day tour of the Guatemala Mayan attractions, he said.

Pathak said the Hindu and the Maya traditions and cultures are one of
the ancient in the world. "There are many similarities in these two
great traditions. While, they date back thousands of years; they
believe in One God with manifestations in different forms. Both
believe in philosophy for human being in totality and total
humanity," he said.

Top
#1020 - July 11, 2006 11:04 PM Re: News
Pathmarajah Offline
Member

Registered: July 22, 2004
Posts: 375
Loc: Penang
www.ambahouse.org offers email classes in Vedic chanting.

Its open to all; women and non hindus included. I am taking classes myself, just to relearn and refresh. Their explanations and views are enlightening; I can vouch for that.

So there we are; vedic knowledge for all. One of our goals is achieved. One wall down and just a few more to go.It is now up to non brahmins, women and non hindus to educate themselves. And stop complaining.

I encourage every person on this forum, even ladies, to learn a few hymns. This site has the blessings of several gurus and aadheenams.

Reform is change and it is up to our members to change first.


posted April 12, 2003 05:24 PM

For too long we have been told that ..only brahmins should chant the vedas, ..women should not chant.. , and
that wrong chanting may produce adverse results.
I have heard this long ago and have tested it myself to see if we are prepetuating truth or fallacy. It is not a
question of subscribing to a particular traditional attitude or discipline, but a question of truth or not. Are we
not told not to accept the vedas but to 'check it out' and prove its truth to ourselves?

We have to discuss this issue further because this is one of the truth or fallacy that has divided our society,
cloistered the vedas, frighten away the non brahmins, as well as crystallised the caste system.

Nowhere in the vedas is it told that women should not chant, and that wrong chanting may produce adverse
results, or that only brahmins should chant. So where did this idea come from? Certainly its a non vedic idea,
and therfore in my book, an adharmic idea that goes against the grain of the vedas. People who perpetuate
these ideas are certainly non Hindus. More than 20 women contributed to vedic hymns. More than 400 rishis of all castes contributed to the vedas. Women rishis too gave us the vedas, and now we are told women and non brahmins cannot
chant. Thats adharma in anybodys book. Kutram, kutram thaan.

In the past I have deliberately mischanted and mispronounced to see
if there are negativel results. My tests showed there are none, only no
benefits.

I have taught a thousand people to chant and do daily pujas in my
country. I am sure many would have mispronounced, etc. To my knowledge,
all are doing well will fulfilled family lives and businesses. I chant
all the time; while driving to work, on the throne, when having a beer
in the most inappropriate of places, in the public swimming pool,
etc.

Sometimes when I chant (or shout), my chinese neighbours hear and they
love it, and they come over and take my hymn book and chant a para or
two. I spread goodwill this way; spread the vedas, and I only receive
goodwill in return. And I shall continue to teach the vedic hymns to
any soul who relishes it. The mere singing (with all the mischanting)
and without knowing the meanings even, draws one slowly and surely to
the path of dharma.

Pick a verse from the vedas, any verse. Show how it can be
mispronounced, mischanted and the meanings changed. Dont hold back
here, give it all you got. Then show clearly how a negative effect can
happen. And I will show how the preliminary verses, the sankalpam,
precedent and following verses, as well as the apology verses corrects
any wrong chanting. When they wrote the vedas, the authors were fully
aware that hymns can be mispronounced and therefore installed
'safeguards'. Thats why the constant repetition, thats why the homages
in so many different ways.

I have already mentioned that with intent and devotion alone a puja can
be conducted without any vedic chanting at all. When a person
conducts a puja, he is not alone. The mere intent of doing a puja draws
the devas. Just entering the shrine room with devotion 'rings a bell'
and the devas gather excitedly. With the lighting of the oil lamp, the
impatient devas begin chanting. Invoking Ganesha invites the ganas that
provide a secure perimeter, a psychic and astral shell around the
shrine room and home and this protects us from the mischanting. As you
chant the devas chant with you. Midway in the puja, dozens of devas are
chanting and your voice is drowned. There is even no need for you to
chant any further. The puja is successful and a connection has been
made to the inner world. With the arathi the grace comes.

Doing a puja is almost like teaching a classroom of children. Just
start chanting the first line and then the children take over, chant
with you and then outchant you. This is my experience. Its time we
demystify the vedas.

Pathma
April 12, 2003

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#1021 - July 11, 2006 11:07 PM Re: News
webmaster Offline
Member

Registered: February 07, 2010
Posts: 1030
Loc: KL
11 July, 2006
NewKeralaNews

Varanasi women break free of tradition, initiate to priesthood


Varanasi: As a controversy rages in southern India over the entry of a woman to a temple, dozens of girls were initiated to priesthood in the temple town of the country, Varanasi, on Tuesday.

Girls, who had completed a formal course in priesthood, were given "diksha" or initiation to priesthood here on Tuesday amidst chanting of sacred hymns and a fire ritual on "Guru Purnima", a day Hindus honour their "Guru"

The girls were also invested with sacred threads in an auspicious ceremony usually held for upper caste Hindu men, which allows them to practice priesthood.

"This is the age of science and even women are a part of technology development. When they can work in offices, at par with any man, they can also practice priesthood," said Surya Devi, a teacher at the Panini Girls School where the ritual was held.

"This is the day when we express our gratitude towards our teachers and serve them," said Reena, a student.

Hundreds of Hindu devout gather every year in the holy city to celebrate the annual festival coinciding with the full moon day.

Women also keep fast and offer prayers to deities for the well being of their husbands and protection from evil on this day.

Top
#1022 - September 26, 2006 12:14 PM Re: News
webmaster Offline
Member

Registered: February 07, 2010
Posts: 1030
Loc: KL
The Evolution Of Monotheism

If we accept the historical evidence that Abraham was polytheist, then we have found grounds for a more pluralistic view of Islam in the many verses praising him.
By Zeeshan Hasan, September 22, 2006



The Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition seems to have monotheistic faith as a common thread. However, modern literary criticism of the Hebrew Bible and archaeological research in ancient Israelite religion questions the monotheism of early figures such as Abraham and even Moses. Exploring the development of monotheism in the Abrahamic traditions allows us to put monotheism in a larger historical framework which can be extended to include other religions such as Hinduism.

To begin with, we need to take a closer look at the traditional biblical (as well as Islamic) picture of Abraham and other Israelite figures as monotheist worshippers of the Israelite deity. Essentially this is the view that conservative Jews, Christians and Muslims have held to based upon their reading of either the Biblical book of Genesis and in the Qur'an. It posits the original monotheism of humanity all the way down from Adam, shared by Noah, and continued in Abraham and his Israelite descendants.

In a nutshell, Genesis presents a history of the Israelites beginning with their ancestor Abraham (whose Hebrew name, ab-raham literally means "the father of the womb", which is an idiomatic way of saying "the ancestor of the many descendants" or "the ancestor of the tribe"). Abraham is portrayed as being an immigrant to the land of Canaan from the Babylonian city of Ur (in current-day Iraq) who has settled in Israel. Abraham is followed by his sons Ishmael and Isaac, as well as his grandson Jacob, to whom is given the divinely-appointed name of "Israel". Jacob's given name subsequently becomes the name of the tribe of his descendants. All the above figures are traditionally viewed as monotheist immigrants, as compared to the indigenous Canaanite polytheists who inhabit the land. Finally, Abraham's great-grandson Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, where he gains influence and later invites the other Israelites during a period of drought in Canaan. The line of Abraham's descendants is then lost, but the story of the Israelites is continued in the Biblical book of Exodus many years later. In Exodus, Moses leads his now enslaved tribe out of Egypt and back towards the land of Canaan. Moses is viewed not only as a monotheist, but the first to learn God's personal name, Yahweh (or Jehovah in English) and as the recipient of the Commandments or the Law (Hebrew torah, and Arabic tawrat). Moses' successor Joshua leads the Israelites to conquer the cities of Canaan, and the land is subsequently known by the name of the newly-ruling tribe of Israel. Finally, the Biblical books of Kings recount the rule of David and Solomon as divinely-appointed monotheist monarchs of Israel.

The above picture of Biblical history is almost entirely retained in the Qur'an, with a few minor changes such as Abraham being relocated to Mecca rather than Ur (in order that he be able to build the Ka'ba). Thus Jews, Christians and Muslims all take for granted that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Moses were monotheists. However, the monotheism of the early Israelites has been questioned by many modern historians of religion. A very brief introduction to this debate is given in the first chapter of Karen Armstrong's book, A History Of God.

One point to bear in mind is that the tribe of Israel incorporates in its own name an evocation of its ancient deity: namely El. In Hebrew, El is usually translated simply as "god" or "God"; but is also the name of one of the chief gods of the polytheist Canaanites. Another point to bear in mind is that Hebrew and Canaanite are essentially different dialects of the same language. Thus we should not be surprised if there is overlap of religious language. Hebrew words isra-el thus means either "El strives" or "one who strives with El". The latter meaning is used in the Biblical story of how Jacob gains this name through literally wrestling with God.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, 'Let me go, for the day is breaking.' But Jacob said, 'I will not let you go, unless you bless me.' So he said to him, 'What is your name?' And he said, 'Jacob.' Then the man said, 'You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.' Then Jacob asked him, 'Please tell me your name.' But he said, 'Why is it that you ask my name?' And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peni-El (Hebrew for "face of God"), saying, 'For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.' (Genesis 32:24-30)

The above p***age is quite bizarre in terms of our modern concepts of monotheism. God (whose name of El is confirmed in the place name Peni-El) is depicted as a mysterious spirit of the night who must escape before sunrise. This Jacob story shows that the Israelites acknowledged that their original deity was El from a very early point in their history, or they would not use this particular divine name to identify the name of their tribe. As a side note, the word translated simply as "God" above is the Hebrew word Elohim; it is actually a plural form. This word will become significant later in our discussion.

The early Israelite worship of El is further supported by various other Biblical p***ages. Abraham and his descendants are recorded as worshipping El under the name of El-Shaddai (Hebrew for 'El of the mountain', but traditionally translated 'God Almighty') numerous times:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, 'I am El-Shaddai; walk before me, and be blameless. (Genesis 17:1)

Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, '...May El-Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and numerous.. (Genesis 28:1-3)

God appeared to Jacob again... and he blessed him. God said to him, 'Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.' So he was called Israel. God said to him, 'I am El Shaddai; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you. (Genesis 35:9-11)

Then their father Israel (previously known as Jacob) said to them,...'may El Shaddai grant you mercy... (Genesis 43:11-14)

And Jacob said to Joseph, 'El Shaddai appeared to me... and he blessed me..." (Genesis 48:3-4)

In addition to the repeated naming of El-Shaddai above, Abraham also worships his deity with various other names, including El-Olam (Hebrew for "eternal El") and El-Elyon ("El the most high").

Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, El-Olam. (Genesis 16:33)

But Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'I have sworn to the Lord, El-Elyon, maker of heaven and earth...' (Genesis 14:22)
The above makes apparent that the early Israelites worshipped a deity whom they called El. But who exactly was El? Modern historians of religion identify this name with one of the deities of the early Canaanites, the polytheists among whom the early Israelite monotheist immigrants were depicted as residing. While the Bible provides little insight into the beliefs of the Canaanites, archaeological excavations of the ancient Canaanite city of Ugarit (at Ras Shamra, in modern-day Syria) has provided us with a great deal of knowledge of Canaanite myths. These feature a Canaanite pantheon which includes the gods El (meaning "deity") and Baal (meaning "lord").

But a later step in the development of Israelite monotheism came with an altogether new name for the deity which ultimately supplanted the older El-based ones. Several centuries after the time of Abraham, the Bible depicts Moses as meeting a deity named Yahweh at the burning bush. Yahweh affirms having been the deity previously known as El-Shaddai, in spite of the unfamiliar name now used:
God also spoke to Moses and said to him: 'I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El-Shaddai, but by my name Yahweh I did not make myself known to them. (Exodus 6:2-4)

But even with the advent of Yahweh, traces of Canaanite religion persist. El is the elder deity of the Canaanite pantheon; he is pictured as being the king of the gods, and presiding over a divine council. Yahweh is portrayed similarly in the Biblical text below:

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Yahweh, your faithfulness in the ***embly of the holy ones. For who in the skies can be compared to Yahweh? Who among the heavenly beings is like Yahweh, a God feared in the council of the holy ones, great and awesome above all that are around him? (Psalms 89:5-7)
Furthermore, the Canaanite god El was given the title "Bull El" due to his strength and fertility. It's no coincidence that the the Bible denounces Moses' followers for slipping into polytheism by worshipping a golden calf; they were obviously worshipping Canaanite El. But remarkably, the Biblical book of Genesis refers to Yahweh as the "Bull of Jacob", presumably a title which has been inherited from El:
'Joseph is a fruitful bough... The archers fiercely attacked him; Yet his bow remained taut... by the hands of the Bull of Jacob... (Genesis 49:22-24)
Nor is the remnant of the Canaanite pantheon only to be seen in the ***ociation of Yahweh with El, the ancient king of the gods. There are also Biblical traces of Baal, the youthful Canaanite warrior-god of storm and sky. Baal's epithet was "rider of the clouds", which is also applied to Yahweh in the Biblical p***age below:
Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds - his name is Yahweh - be exultant before him. (Psalms 68:4)
The depiction of Yahweh as a sky and warrior god is very clear in the following Biblical text celebrating the escape from the Pharaoh of Egypt and sometimes called the "Song of Moses":
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to Yahweh: I will sing to Yahweh, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea... Yahweh is a warrior; Yahweh is his name. 'Pharaoh's chariots and his army he cast into the sea; his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them... your right hand, O Yahweh, shattered the enemy... you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea... You blew with your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. (Exodus 15:1-11)
The obvious attribution of storm, wind and flood to Yahweh above seems very reminiscent of Canaanite Baal. The following verses make the sky god aspect of Yahweh even clearer, by glorifying lightning over the trees and thunder over the water with his voice:
The voice of Yahweh is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, Yahweh, over mighty waters. The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars; Yahweh breaks the cedars of Lebanon. The voice of Yahweh flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness; The voice of Yahweh causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, 'Glory!' (Psalm 29:1-9)
How did early Israelite religion come to incorporate so much of the above Canaanite polytheist imagery? This question only arises because our preconception is of a monotheist Israelite religion with no space to accommodate Canaanite deities. This preconception is not always borne out by the textual evidence of the Bible. For example, let us look at the following commandment to Moses:
I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods besides me. You shall not make for yourself an idol... You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, (Exodus 20:2-5)
Read carefully, the above does not actually say that no other gods besides Yahweh exist. Rather, it says that the Israelites must worship Yahweh alone, and not give any mind to other gods. Whether or not they exist is a different matter, and not dealt with here. This is not strict monotheism as modern Jews, Christians or Muslims think of it. It is more akin to henotheism, the belief that although many gods may exist, only one is to be worshipped. Henotheism seems like a strange concept in the Biblical context, but again that is only because of our preconception that the Bible is purely monotheist. In more explicitly polytheist contexts, it is commonplace; for example, although Hinduism has a pantheon of many gods and goddesses, individual worshippers often worship only one of them in practice (for example, Shaivites focus on Shiva, Vaishnavites on Vishnu, etc). A very interesting Biblical verse, given below, smacks of henotheism:
When Elyon apportioned the nations, when he divided humankind, he fixed the boundaries of the peoples according to the number of the gods; Yahweh's own portion was his people, Jacob his allotted share. (Deuteronomy 32:8-9)
Elyon above is usually just translated as "God", and ***umed to refer to the same monotheist deity as Yahweh. However, we have seen that Abraham seems to have worshipped the Canaanite god El with the name El-Elyon, while Yahweh only appeared much later to Moses. In that case, the above might actually preserve a tradition by which Yahweh and El are two separate deities, and the elder god El is ceding authority over the Israelites to the newcomer Yahweh. Again, this possibility fits perfectly with henotheism, but not monotheism.

From a historical point of view, the ***ertion that Israelite religion was originally monotheist is quite difficult to maintain. The Bible itself tells us that Abraham and his sons, the founding ancestors of the Israelites, lived in a Canaanite, polytheist environment. But we have only the Biblical tradition that Abraham was an immigrant from Babylonia to distinguish him from his Canaanite neighbors. The archaeological impossibility of ever verifying the immigration or even existence of a single individual into Canaan thousands of years ago means that we will never be able to verify this critical Biblical claim. On the other hand, we can see from traces of El and Baal in the Bible that the early Israelites who lived in Canaan actually worshipped something similar to Canaanite gods: so how do we know that the first Israelites were not originally Canaanites? If Abraham really came from Ur, why would he and his tribe speak Hebrew, a dialect of the Canaanite language? Why would his tribe name themselves "Isra-El" after a Canaanite deity?

To historians it seems much more likely that Abraham himself was Canaanite, and that the accounts of him migrating from Ur are fictional. From the perspective of modern historians, this is a much easier claim to make, as one does not have to prove that Abraham's family migrated from Ur. The Babylonian origin of Abraham probably served a dual purpose; firstly, it ***ociated him with the ancient Babylonian civilization, which was older and more renowned than that the politically insignificant province of Canaan. Secondly, ***erting Abraham's non-Canaanite origins enabled later monotheist Biblical writers to claim that he was not a polytheist Canaanite. This is where modern historians part company with the Biblical account.

It is at this stage of the investigation that we have to change track. So far, we have looked at the melding of Canaanite and Israelite deities from the purely textual perspective of the Bible. While this is both enlightening and a necessary starting point, it is far from the whole story. The greater portion of the modern evidence for the evolution of Israelite culture and religion lies in modern archaeology, not in isolated textual study. This evidence has been elegantly presented by the archaeologist William G. Dever in his book, Who were the early Israelites, and where did they come from?

The first Biblical episode that we have any hope of investigating archeologically is the exodus from Egypt led by Moses, which culminated in the conquest of Canaan by his successor Joshua. This story of large-scale conquest should be apparent in the archaeological record as the point where Canaanite culture, dominant since Abraham, was replaced by the Israelite culture of Moses' followers. This is convenient, because another mystery of the Bible is intricately tied up with Moses: this is the divine name, "Yahweh", which he was the first to learn. Etymologically, it is a mystery, with no grammatically obvious meaning in Hebrew. Even the early Israelites seem to have regarded it as something of a mystery, as is apparent from the first encounter between Moses and his newly discovered deity:
But Moses said to God, 'If I come to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you", and they ask me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to them?' 14God said to Moses, 'I am who I am.' (Exodus 3:13)
As many Biblical translators have pointed out, "I am who I am" is simply an idiomatic way of saying, "Do not concern yourself with who I am." This verse seems to reflect a genuine confusion among the Israelites as to the identity of their new deity named Yahweh. This would make perfect sense if the Israelites were indeed originally Canaanites, since Yahweh was not one the gods of Canaan. In that case, we are left with the conclusion that Yahweh was a new god, perhaps a foreign god. So how did Yahweh become the main name of the Israelite God? Dever has interesting answers to both these questions.

Investigating the archaeological record of Palestine at the time which should correspond to Moses, Dever surveys all the major excavations and finds no evidence for any invasion of Canaan by conquering Israelites. He does, however, locate a point in history at which existing Canaanite settlements are disbanded or depopulated, and new ones Israelite ones created in their place. However, it turns out that there is no evidence at all for this change being caused by an armed invasion of Israelites. Rather, it seems to be the result of indigenous social disruption which accompanied the transition from late Bronze Age to early Iron Age, around 1300-1200 BC. Possibly over-taxed and oppressed by the despotic rulers of Bronze Age Canaan, the peasantry seem to have voted with their feet by abandoning both the rulers and their large settlements. These were replaced by new, smaller Iron Age Israelite settlements. But there is no indication of large-scale invasion causing this change. Dever recounts that archaeological evidence, in particular the continuity of pottery style evolution, indicates that there was no new ethnic group taking over Canaan during this transition. Rather, the indication is that Canaanite culture evolved into Israelite culture during this period:
Although potting techniques... may change from Late Bronze II to Iron I, virtually all of the individual forms that we do have exhibit a strong, and I would say direct, continuity. Thus our early Israelites look just like Canaanites. (Dever p. 121)
This fits in very well with the continuity that we have seen between Canaanite imagery of El and Baal and Biblical imagery of Yahweh. Dever also notes evidence for the origin of Yahweh. Moses is depicted as having first encountered Yahweh while he journeyed in Median, or the desert areas ranging from the Sinai peninsula (between Egypt and Palestine) and northern Arabia. Egyptologists have found several ancient texts indicating a possible origin of Yahweh in this region. The dates of the Egyptian texts (roughly 1500 – 1200 BC) also correspond roughly in date to when Moses would have to have lived in order for his follower to migrate to Canaan at the end of the Bronze Age:
According to Redford, the early Israelites were simply a contingent of the Shasu Bedouin of southern Canaan, well known to us from the 18th-19th Dynasty Egyptian records. There are several rather detailed descriptions of the Shasu, placing them principally on the semi-arid borders of Egyptian lands... Several fascinating texts make reference to a deity "Yhw (in) the land of the Shasu", recalling the Biblical tradition that also derives Moses' knowledge of Yahweh from the Land of Midian. Indeed, such texts are our earliest known reference to the Israelite Yahweh, and among the few anywhere outside the Bible. (Dever p. 150)
It makes perfect sense that Yahweh is a mysterious word in Hebrew if it was in fact an imported, non-Hebrew word. It seems that migration of small groups was a continuous process between Israel, Egypt and the surrounding lands; people probably went wherever there was a better crop and more food. According to Dever, it is likely that some of these groups moved into Israel from both Egypt and Median during the period of Canaanite collapse, bringing with them religious traditions of Moses and Yahweh.

The political vacuum created at the end of Bronze Age Canaan seemingly resulted in a religious vacuum as well. It was in this vacuum that new traditions of emigrating from Egypt under Moses (which is in fact an Egyptian name, meaning "born of"; similar to Tut-mose, "born of Tut"), of worshipping a desert deity named Yahweh, and finally the images of the Canaanite gods El and Baal could all be combined. The result was a new Israelite religion which grew with the new Iron Age settlements, and gradually became monotheist as the old gods El and Baal were absorbed into the new figure of Yahweh.

Thus the story of the evolution of Israelite monotheism is much more complex than we might have thought. Interestingly, the story does not end there but continues with the advent of Islam centuries later in Arabia. The Qur'anic use of the Arabic Allahumma is apparently derived from the Hebrew Elohim, the common biblical word for "God". The Arabic word Allah, on the other hand, seems to be a contraction of "al ilah" ("the deity" or "God" in Arabic). Allah seems to have been an indigenous deity of the pre-Islamic Arabs, as evidenced by the name of Muhammad's father, Abdullah ("worshipper of Allah"). Thus the Qur'an unifies the Hebrew term for God (as represented by Allahumma) with an indigenous Arab one (Allah).

So we are left with a very interesting view of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition; one which may greatly change its interactions with other religious traditions in the current day. If monotheist worship of Yahweh in Israel started after Moses, it would seem that previous Biblical and Qur'anic figures such as Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph were all polytheist. Since these figures are all revered as primordial Muslims in the Qur'an, the surprising conclusion is that the definition of "Muslim" has changed over the millennia, along with the definition of God itself. In spite of apparently believing in a polytheist religion that Muslims today would not even recognize, the Qur'an has no reservations of the high status of Abraham.
Say: No, but follow the religion of Abraham, the upright (Qur'an 2:135)
The unwavering Qur'anic support of Abraham is very significant for modern day Muslims. If we accept the historical evidence that Abraham was polytheist, then we have found grounds for a more pluralistic view of Islam in the many verses praising him. This is very relevant in the context of South Asia, for example, where fundamentalist Muslim leaders routinely criticize Hinduism for being polytheist.

More generally, given the historical evidence that even Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheism has evolved from very different religious ideas, it becomes harder to criticize any other religion for not being monotheist. This enables us to develop a Qur'anic theology based on genuine respect and appreciation for other religions as divinely-inspired, regardless of how different they may seem. The following verses are relevant:
And for every nation there is a messenger (Qur'an 10:47)

To every nation We appointed sacred rites which they are to perform. (Qur'an 22:67)

And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it... For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (Qur'an 5:48)
The above seems to imply that the variety of religious faiths that we see in the world may all be part of a larger divine scheme of things. How do we know that all of these are not simply the "sacred rites" appointed to different nations, each corresponding to various divinely-approved "traced-out ways" (shir'at in Arabic, with a similar etymology as shari'ah)? They may seem different and strange to us, but so would Abraham's Canaanite polytheism. And the Qur'an is very positive about Abraham; so it becomes impossible for us to criticize any religion based on doctrine. As the above makes clear, the only way left to criticize any religion is based on the "good works" of its followers. From this viewpoint, Islam does not become merely tolerant of other religions, but actually appreciative of them.

An interesting consequence of this discussion is that over their disparate histories, the Judeo-Christian Muslim tradition winds up looking a lot like Hinduism. Both started out thousands of years ago with polytheism and moved towards monotheism. In Israel that happened millennia ago, with the absorption of El and Baal into the figure of Yahweh. In India it happened about a century ago with the Brahmo Samaj (as a result of which, the poems and songs of the Bengali Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore are sufficiently monotheist to be used as hymns in Christian churches in Bangladesh).

Zeeshan Hasan's other religious articles are at liberalislam.net; he also blogs at the progressiveislam.org group site.

http://www.altmuslim.com/perm.php?id=1766_0_25_0_C

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#1023 - September 26, 2006 12:16 PM Re: News
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Posts: 1030
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The Pope is not alone

www.daily pioneer.com
26th Sept 2006
Surya Prakash

After launching a sustained and multi-pronged attack on Pope Benedict XVI, radical Islamists have managed to extract a partial retraction from the head of the Roman Catholic Church for his recent remarks on Islam, but the central point made by the Pope that religion and violence do not go together, is un***ailable. Looking at the scale of the demonstrations against the Holy Father, it would appear as if he is the first person in history to have candidly aired his views on Islam and about Islamic scriptural support for violence against non-Muslims. However, that is hardly so. He is certainly not the first religious or political leader of consequence to have spoken up against justification of violence in Islam. And going by the reactions of other religious leaders, it is certain that Pope Benedict XVI will not be the last.

In his speech at a German university, the Pope quoted a medieval emperor who had said Prophet Mohammed had brought things which were "evil and inhuman" and had spread by the sword the faith he preached. Islamists wanted a complete retraction from the Pope, but the pontiff was in no mood to oblige them. A week after this controversial speech, the Pope said by way of clarification that "the polemical content does not express my personal convictions". However, he ***erted that his intention was only to explain that "not religion and violence but religion and reason go together".

Given the ferocity of the attack launched against the Pope and the death threats held out by some organisations, including an Islamic cleric from Somalia who has asked Muslims to "hunt down and kill" Benedict XVI, one would have thought that political and religious leaders would be chary of treading this path and inviting the wrath of Islamists. But that is not the case. Unmindful of the tirade being faced by the Pope, two other religious leaders - Archbishop Christodoulos, Head of the Orthodox Church of Greece and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury - have spoken up about Islam in much the same vein as the Pope.

Speaking on 'The Cross and the Crescent: The clash of faiths in an age of secularism", a week after the Pope made his controversial remarks, Lord Carey said, "Islam's borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power". In other words, Lord Carey is just not willing to separate radical Islam from Islam in general. However, he urged Muslims to address their religion's ***ociation with violence "with great urgency".

Undaunted by the attack on Pope Benedict, the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece told the faithful in Athens that Christians in Africa were suffering from fanatic Islamists. He said Roman Catholic monks were being ******inated by Muslim fanatics.

But as I said earlier, none of this is new. Following the ******ination of Swami Shraddhanand at the hands of a Muslim fanatic in December, 1926, Mahatma Gandhi had said: "Mussalmans have an ordeal to p*** through. There can be no doubt that they are too free with the knife and the pistol. The sword is an emblem of Islam. But Islam was born in an environment where the sword was, and still remains, the supreme law. The message of Jesus has proved ineffective because the environment was unready to receive it. So with the message of the Prophet. The sword is yet too much in evidence among the Mussalmans. It must be sheathed if Islam is to be what it means - peace." This was 80 years ago.

Going by the statements of the Pope and many others, it appears as if time has stood still. Nothing has happened between 1926 and 2006 which would warrant us to say that Gandhi's view on Islam is now irrelevant. On the other hand, the cumulative effect of much of what has happened in the world and in our sub-continent in these intervening years has only reinforced this view.

Long years before Gandhi spoke his mind on Islam, Swami Vivekananda told a gathering in London in November, 1896: "In the Quran there is the doctrine that a man who does not believe these teachings should be killed. It is a mercy to kill him! Think of the bloodshed there has been in consequence of such beliefs!"

Annie Besant said in 1922 that the argument of the Muslim leadership that they are ordained to obey Islamic law as against laws made by the state is "subversive of civic order and stability of the state". BR Ambedkar, the author of our Constitution, too, has emphatically stated that Islam divided the world into Dar-ul Islam ( Abode of Islam) and Dar-ul Harb (Abode of War) and that it is incumbent of Muslims to wage war against any country that is not controlled by Muslims.

In recent years, Samuel Huntington, the Harvard Professor who has propagated the 'Clash of Civilisations' theory, has observed: "The Quran and other statements of Muslim belief contain few prohibitions on violence, and a concept of non-violence is absent from Muslim doctrine and practice."

So what is new in what the Pope said some days ago in Germany? Shall we now put Gandhi, Ambedkar, Annie Besant and Vivekananda in the dustbin of history and mollify the hotheads in the Islamic world, or shall we stand up and tell these radical Islamists that the liberal, democratic world has now run out of patience?

Truly, democrats around the world are tired of explanations. If Islam means peace, we must ask the adherents of Islam to please show it! The angry outburst of Muslims across the world may silence the Pope or force him to backtrack, but nobody should be deceived by it. The problem will not disappear with the Pope's partial retraction. As the reactions of Archbishop Christodoulos and Lord Carey show, non-Muslims are not going to be cowed down by threats of violence either. The apprehensions about Islam in the non-Muslim world are real. Muslims must face this truth and take the initiative to give themselves a new, moderate image. Nobody else can do it.

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#1024 - December 23, 2006 04:10 PM Re: News
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Registered: February 07, 2010
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Liberalism and neurology
Free to choose?


Dec 19th 2006
From The Economist print edition

Modern neuroscience is eroding the idea of free will


IN THE late 1990s a previously blameless American began collecting child
pornography and propositioning children. On the day before he was due to be
sentenced to prison for his crimes, he had his brain scanned. He had a tumour.
When it had been removed, his paedophilic tendencies went away. When it started
growing back, they returned. When the regrowth was removed, they vanished again.
Who then was the child abuser?
His case dramatically illustrates the challenge that modern neuroscience is
beginning to pose to the idea of free will. The instinct of the reasonable
observer is that organic changes of this sort somehow absolve the sufferer of
the responsibility that would accrue to a child abuser whose paedophilia was
congenital. But why? The chances are that the latter tendency is just as
traceable to brain mechanics as the former; it is merely that no one has yet
looked. Scientists have looked at anger and violence, though, and discovered
genetic variations, expressed as concentrations of a particular messenger
molecule in the brain, that are both congenital and predisposing to a violent
temper. Where is free will in this case?

Free will is one of the trickiest concepts in philosophy, but also one of the
most important. Without it, the idea of responsibility for one's actions flies
out of the window, along with much of the glue that holds a free society (and
even an unfree one) together. If businessmen were no longer responsible for
their contracts, criminals no longer responsible for their crimes and parents no
longer responsible for their children, even though contract, crime and
conception were “freely” entered into, then social relations would be very
different.
We, the willing
For millennia the question of free will was the province of philosophers and
theologians, but it actually turns on how the brain works. Only in the past
decade and a half, however, has it been possible to watch the living human brain
in action in a way that begins to show in detail what happens while it is
happening (see survey). This ability is doing more than merely adding to
science's knowledge of the brain's mechanism. It is also emphasising to a wider
public that the brain really is a just mechanism, rather than a magician's box
that is somehow outside the normal laws of cause and effect.
Science is not yet threatening free will's existence: for the moment there seems
little prospect of anybody being able to answer definitively the question of
whether it really exists or not. But science will shrink the space in which free
will can operate by slowly exposing the mechanism of decision making.
At that point, the old French proverb “to understand all is to forgive all” will
start to have a new resonance, though forgiveness may not always be the
consequence. Indeed, that may already be happening. At the moment, the criminal
law—in the West, at least—is based on the idea that the criminal exercised a
choice: no choice, no criminal. The British government, though, is seeking to
change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are
thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed.
The coming battle
Such disorders are serious pathologies. But the National DNA Database being
built up by the British government (which includes material from many innocent
people), would already allow the identification of those with milder
predispositions to anger and violence. How soon before those people are subject
to special surveillance? And if the state chose to carry out such surveillance,
recognising that the people in question may pose particular risks merely because
of their biology, it could hardly then argue that they were wholly responsible
for any crime that they did go on to commit.
Nor is it only the criminal law where free will matters. Markets also depend on
the idea that personal choice is free choice. Mostly, that is not a problem.
Even if choice is guided by unconscious instinct, that instinct will usually
have been honed by natural selection to do the right thing. But not always.
Fatty, sugary foods subvert evolved instincts, as do addictive ****s such as
nicotine, alcohol and cocaine. Pornography does as well. Liberals say that
individuals should be free to consume these, or not. Erode free will, and you
erode that argument.
In fact, you begin to erode all freedom. Without a belief in free will, an
ideology of freedom is bizarre. Though it will not happen quickly, shrinking the
space in which free will can operate could have some uncomfortable
repercussions.

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