Why Asia?

We are Glenn and Carol Webb. We are retired academics, now living in Palm Desert, CA, in the place shown just above our picture. We have spent most of our lives studying Asia, with Kyoto, Japan as our port of call. This blog consists primarily of essays, written by me, Glenn Taylor Webb, with the input of my wife, Carol St. John Webb. I began writing most of these essays just before we retired. Some have been published, some not. Most were first presented as lectures.

Our lives were changed by what what we experienced living in two cultures. The different ways of thinking about almost everything in Japan (and Asia in general) made us examine some of our fundamental views of life. As a history professor I had to keep a certain distance between historical events and their effects. But at this stage in my life (I'm 75) I feel like sharing with friends the impact that Japan today has had on my family as well as myself. I'm still writing things down. So take a look and let me know what you think.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Fear and Religion

Fear and Religion
July 4, 2016

Today, once again, Islamic Jihadists killed people in the name of their religion … out of fear.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – the three “Religions of the Book” --- teach us to fear death.  Each of them teaches the same basic truth:  that after we die we will either feel untold joy or we will endure untold pain -- forever. The simplest, most extreme motivation for deciding which of these outcomes we ourselves will experience is fear, our fear of others who will threaten us with their unbelief, or our fear of ourselves because we may not be able to live up to the demands of goodness.

There are, however, two ways to look at our future.  Give in to the joy that is promised by each of these religions, or fight the war against evil that all of them abhors.  Most Jews, Christians and Muslims live in between these two extremes.  We’re in between joy and fear.  Few of us actually follow the letter of the law. Only when our fear of each other makes us take up arms do we fight.  Social concerns rather than ideological ones determine what we will do every day.  This is true for young ISIS fighters, too, I think, just as it was for cavemen.

If you were raised in a household that is only nominally Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or if you were raised (or have become) not religious at all, then your social concerns of freedom, tolerance, justice and non-discrimination far outweigh any abstract notions of goodness and evil, right and wrong. If that is you, then you may be susceptible to religion. Your appetite for an answer to the unknown may be too strong.  If you already have the answer you want in religion, then you already are on the warpath.  Most Americans seem to be that way. 

Something in the human brain seems to demand simple answers to the mystery of life and death, and if you find them in the radical side of religious doctrine, you become (in my opinion) a danger to society.  The question becomes, “What does society do about protecting itself from you?” The same question pops up for dharma-caste-conscious Hindus, as well. They have been at war off and on with Muslims for centuries, but at least they produced a rebel some 2600 years ago, the historical Buddha, the world’s first pacifist, who slammed the door shut on retaliation against anyone for any reason. In theory, at least, Jesus of Nazareth was a pacifist, too.  (Sometimes I disagree with both of them on this issue, but that’s another story.) 

At issue this very moment is, “What do we do about people on the most radical side of Islam?” ISIS and other terrorist groups are angry that the Christian-dominated Western world defeated the vast military might of the Islamic world in 1922, after 1400 years of fighting, and helped Jews establish Israel after WWII.  More recently, we invaded Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world. The Kor’an says that if your enemy attacks, you can retaliate, even by killing. 

Well, according to radical Islam, we in the West (and any people who do not follow the letter of Sharia law the radicals follow) are the enemy.  We are the infidels, the unbelievers.  That’s the simple answer to the “Why?” that so many Americans are asking. The question remains, “What do we do?”  Do we bomb them, more than we have, and kill civilians in the process?  Shall we assassinate their leaders?  Can we convert the young men and women who believe in the radical Islamist cause to some other form of religion or more humane system of living?  If so, where do we begin?  Should we pull back our military entirely? Build a wall around our country?

Right now we seem to be doing almost all of those things, but with little success.  In addition, our leaders are telling us to pray for our dead and their loved ones. We are also blaming all Muslims for not speaking out and doing more to stop the carnage going on in the name of their religion. In November our nation will elect a new president.  Right now we have two candidates, a woman with perhaps more experience in democracy than almost anyone on earth, and another with no experience in anything except making money for himself and lashing out at his critics.  At the moment most Americans seem to hate her and prefer turning over the country to him, hoping he will make them wealthy, too.  I dread what comes next.  I’m not sure God is even looking at us.   

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