July 31, 2006
Civic Pedagogy and Violence
— Martin E. Marty
Readers of Sightings through most of a decade may have noticed that the concept driving it is "pedagogy," not "ideology." What José Ortega y Gasset called being a "civic pedagogue" is appealing as a vocation. Some subscribers, to most of whom we cannot respond even as we learn from them, ask for "other," meaning "more." Being a self-appointed pedagogue itself can sound arrogant and condescending, so we have to hope readers will keep in mind Whitehead's definition of a teacher: an ignorant person learning. I was that with students and now with many sources, including those with whom we interact electronically. Another way to put this approach: Colleagues and I ordinarily try to frame issues, not parking our commitments and beliefs at the door, but being aware of them.
This approach also means that we often will seem to be obtusely overlooking headlines or avoiding controversies. You have not read much here about Terry Schiavo, Tour de France doping scandals, celebrity immoralities, overtly partisan politics, or Anglican debates over homosexuality — not because there is nothing to cover there, but because they are abundantly covered elsewhere. Now the biggest world news with religious implications since the invasion of Iraq has to be the Hezbollah-Israel-Hamas wars of recent weeks. Can we pass them by? Researchers who might one day probe our electronic archive — it may be a fantasy to picture them doing so! — may puzzle over absence of comment on such.
So let me content myself with a kind of background footnote, a dog-days-of-summer nipping at the news which participates in the framing activity. Here goes: Summer is stay-at-home time for me, a season for writing and especially for reading so I might hope to have something to say when lecturing season starts. Several hosts have assigned me topics following up on the American Academy of Arts and Sciences six-year, five-volume study of fundamentalisms around the world, which I co-directed with Scott Appleby. Now I find the topical assignments have shifted to focus on words like "terrorism" and "violence" and "religion."
So I read recent books on the subject, some with theological and others with historical or psychological weight, along with four daily newspapers. With the main instrument Appleby and I had in hand, the yellow Hi-Liter, to smear up references relevant to our subject, I found that this activity amounts to almost literal "yellow [Hi-Lited] journalism." Note for a week the hundreds of references to "Shi'ite insurgency," "the Christian Right," or "biblical defenses of Israel."
What sense we do make and will we make of all this as seasons pass? The true spiritual terror of it all relates to a question we always have to ask: "What is it about religion that it can inspire such absolutism, prejudice, and killing?" Have religious people no access or resort to the peaceful visions that go with their faiths?
In the meantime, and as a starting step within our own religious culture, perhaps we can entertain a moratorium on the widespread use of this most recent hateful and — say those who are victims of devastating forces — godless motto being posted all around: "Give War a Chance." War has had and always will have a chance, and does not need God to authorize the killings.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.