The Role of Religions in Appiah’s Account

The case for contamination features an African set up. It is an analysis
of the effects of globalization on world cultures with reference to
Ghana. Cultures differ in various aspects. This is evident in Appiah’s
introductory remarks. He observes that a stranger would view Ghana as a
totally different world from his usual one. This diversity reveals
itself in most aspects of life. While there has been a western influence
in Ghana, some of the traditions remain held dearly by Ghanaians. Ghana
is a culprit of the massive effects of globalization. Appiah sounds
sympathetic to the outraged contamination of cultures in his detailed
discussion of the roles played by different religious worldviews. This
he does from a comparative point of view. His method takes shape within
his critical analysis of these world views: how global integration of
such views upsets systems. In his account, Appiah outlines and
critically discuss the nature of the religious world views. He
identifies various functions of different religions. They include
castigation of social values, justification of wars, legitimization of
governments, oppression of women, cultural imperialism, among others.
The brief write up seeks to review Appiah’s account in the light of
these roles.
Roles of World Religions
Religion is a tool for cultural imperialism. Depending on the cultural
background, religions emerge as different and diverse. In Appiah’s
account, different religions claim their superiority over others. This
is evident in his account of the Christian and Islam world view. Appiah
observes that in Ghana, after the arrival of the missionaries, most of
the villagers abandoned their traditional ways of life (Appiah 2). He
contends that these villagers will become Christians. The converts may
keep some of their old ways although missionaries condemn such
retention. According to missionary messengers, any Pentecostal church
that allows retention of the old rites condones idolatry. As a result of
liberty and diversity, individuals have a right to do what they want.
However, different individuals need different conditions to enhance
their spiritual development. In this respect, different persons cannot
leave well in the same values. This shows that Appiah is apologetic
standard to the conservative Africans (Appiah 3). This group of
cosmopolitan imperialists deplores the effects of the modern western
society crass consumerism to the other parts of the world. By doing so,
they deem what matters as the founding a life of intellectually stable
individuals. For this reason, they reject the traditional religious
views. Such views they deem as inhibiting their very goal of making the
world a better home.
Religion also plays a major role in the shaping of human behavior as
members of a society in general and specifically members of that
religion. In this light, religion provides a prescription of accepted
values together with their corresponding sanctions. Appiah presents
neo-fundamentalists as a group incorporates Christianity and Islam. They
contend that there is a yard stake of behavior in which everyone should
follow. They hold a mindset that there is only one way in which all
individuals should live. What make the difference are the details of
this single way of life. Appiah views this idea as a utopia. Islam
invites people to the most joyful life in this world. This is the only
way that people can escape a miserable life. It is the way of Islam
which demands that one follows the path that Allah commands. This, as
presented by Appiah, shows a doctrine that perceives itself as the only
one that people should follow.
The above idea is a form of universalism. It differs from
cosmopolitanism in that while universalism holds to a single line of
values cosmopolitans allow that there are several values in the world.
Individuals from differing backgrounds should be allowed to follow their
different values. They believe that there are many values that are worth
adopting. It is impossible for someone to live a life that guided by all
norms. This implies that one has the freedom to choose values for
themselves. People from different cultures will chose their own
different values. This neutralizes the idea of the superiority of any
one religious norm over others.
Religions are a tool for oppression. Islam, for instance, levels
hostility against women. Women receive as unequal treatment as compared
to men. Islamic societies do not allow women to participate in some
activities like driving and voting. They are domestic tools, which
should not work outside the house. Their mode of dressing gets
restricted. Appiah observes that globalization is likely to change this.
Women in Islamic communities will also start to fight for their lights.
This happens in the face of global internet connection. The women may
get exposed to western behavior thus start lobbying for equality, as
well. This lobby may disrupt the balance of power. The implication is
that freedom and diversity are at odds. There is tension between freedom
and diversity which is hard to resolve. While it is a good thing to have
a variety of cultures, the effects of liberty and equality threatens the
very culture.
Religious ideology justifies wars. Religious intolerance castigates
wars. These wars appear legitimate in the face of religious beliefs. The
decision to apply violence is a matter of government concern. However,
this use of force gets legitimacy from in religion. The most intolerant
group of religionists is the Universalists. Appiah contends that this
intolerance leads to murder (2). Examples of religious wars include the
French Wars of Religion which lead to the death of multiple individuals.
These wars lasted for more than forty years. The end of these wars
culminated in Edict of Nantes in 1958. In this agreement, Henri IV of
France allowed the Protestants to participate and involve in their
faith. Central Europe also had a thirty years war that ended with the
treaty of Westphalia in 1648. In this war catholic and protestant clergy
were at the center. This led to death of many Germans. These wars get
triggered by the ideologies of the two groups of religionists: the
neo-fundamentalists and the cosmopolitans.
Discussion
Appiah account of religion draws from a conflict theorist point of view.
Conflict theorists view social systems as the major agents of tension
and conflict. According to Karl Max, religion is a ruling class tool
that seeks to legitimize the operations of governments. (Marx at el 72).
Many contradictions characterize the system. This is evident in
Appiah’s analysis. Religious groups differ in ideologies. This leads
to a struggle between them and at times to physical wars. The French
wars of Religion are a perfect example of this conflict (Appiah 6).
Furthermore, the Universalists and the cosmopolitans as analyzed by
Appiah hold opposing ideologies. While the neo-fundamental Universalists
believe in the existence of a single line of values, the cosmopolitans
advocate for a plurality of values. Appiah presents religion as tending
to separate people. In this course humanity gets torn apart into
separate worlds. Some of the religious world views deem themselves
superior to others. This in the long run leads to religious imperialism.
Appiah presents this in his analysis of the arrival of missionaries and
their aim of converting the Africans to Christianity (Appiah 2).
Imperialism takes effect in a total ban on traditional religious rites.
Furthermore, religion plays a crucial role in the retention of the
status quo. It is a tool for oppression of the weak. In Appiah’s
account, Islam is used to oppress women by allocating them unequal
rights. Any attempt to change the status faces with severe sanctions.
This view is similar to Marxists account of religion. According to them,
religion is a tool for the bourgeoisie to ensure that the proletariat is
content. The missionaries used Christianity as a tool of extending their
rule in Ghana.
It can be argued that conflict is not the sole result of religion. A
different analysis can be provided for religion. Functionalist approach
views religion as a tool for uniting communities. It does not explain
how the world is. Rather, religion helps individuals to survive in the
world. This it does by integrating people and supporting them
psychologically as well as emotionally. Rather than being a tool for
conflict, religion emerges as a tool for consensus (Durkheim and
Thompson 78). Even though conflicts may be inevitable, they get remedy
from existing consensus. Appiah’s account does not present religion as
a tool for consensus. His account is more biased on wars and conflict
between different religious groups.
The dominant religions contaminate the un dominant. Each tries to outdo
the other. Western religions seek to neutralize African traditional
religions. Islam declares jihad on western religions. As Appiah
observes, jihad, warfare against the Christian west, seems to be a sixth
pillar of Islam. However, religion is more than just conflict. It has a
uniting role. Despite the variety of ideologies between religious world
views, religion as a universal human experience has a common goal.
People seek to get answers about the problems of life from science and
technology. Science, however, does not provide answers. The problem of
mortality finds an answer in religion. Religion promises an afterlife.
Moreover, religious rites in different religions bring people together
in consensus and not conflict.
Works Cited
Marx, Karl, and David McLellan. Selected Writings. Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1988. Print.
Appiah Kwame. The case of Contamination. Cambridge University Press,
2006. Internet resource
Durkheim, Emile, and Kenneth Thompson. Readings from Emile Durkheim.
London: Routledge, 2004. Internet resource.
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