The Modern City: Where Religions and Secularism Live Side by Side

Dissenting both from those who see secularization as an inexorable march in one direction and from those who see a resurgence of religion moving in the opposite direction, Peter Berger argues that one of the defining features of modernity is the ability of religion—in fact, many religions—to exist side by side with various forms of secularism. Take, for instance, a hospital:

Except for a small portion of the world’s population (especially in Western Europe and in the international intelligentsia), the relation between religion and modernity is not a matter of either/or but rather of both/and. . . .

Every hospital is a temple to the spirit of modernity: the therapy dispensed there is to be based exclusively on scientific knowledge, and the most advanced technology is applied in its service. However, the organization of a hospital resembles that of a religious hierarchy. All doctors wear long white robes, and the top doctors, surrounded by acolytes, occasionally descend from the heights and pronounce judgments. Lesser medical personnel, nurses, and technicians wear less sacred uniforms. The patients, upon whom this entire hierarchy is imposed, go around in demeaning clothing. . . . They must wait until sentence is pronounced from on high, they hope a merciful one. . . .

But . . . the hospital, flying the banners of modernity, is also ongoingly invaded by religion. Some of it is on the formal level. Large hospitals in Boston employ a multi-religious group of chaplains. Some are sent in by outside religious bodies, some are actually on the hospital’s own payroll. Both groups very commonly go through a program that began many years ago under the heading “clinical training,” intended to teach aspiring chaplains basic techniques of “counseling” (a kind of psychotherapy 101). . . . [And] chaplains prefer to describe their message as “spirituality,” rather than “religion.”

This allows them to fit more easily into the discourse of the medical hierarchy, including doing entries into patients’ charts—a “spirituality” index being potentially added to all the other data: blood pressure, sugar levels, X-ray pictures, and so on.

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Read more at American Interest

More about: American Religion, Pluralism, Religion, Religion & Holidays, Secularism, Secularization

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East