Beliefs or Interests?

by Craig Martin

I’ve recently seen the following pic making the rounds on Facebook:

One of things I find frustrating here is that it’s not clear that people fight over different “faiths,” “beliefs,” or mere differences in “religious identity.” As I’ve written before,

Upon reflection it’s difficult to see how or why people could ever come to blows over differences in mere belief. If you believe that chocolate ice cream is the best, and I believe that vanilla is far superior, what practical difference does this difference make? Where substantial interests do not diverge, getting along is not that difficult. I assume that this is why liberal interfaith work tends to appeal to people with the same middle- or upper-class bourgeois lifestyle: when Jews, Christians, and Muslims of the same social class are living relatively identical material lives, of course there is unlikely to be any conflict of interests between them.

By contrast, I suspect that the current conflict in Israel and Palestine involves rather substantial competing interests. While the image above and these protesters seem to be well-intentioned, it seems obvious to me that this sort of framing of the issue obscures the  dramatic interests at stake in the Israel/Palestine conflict.

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3 Responses to Beliefs or Interests?

  1. Marcos says:

    Of course. But the governments in the Middle East and the main western media will insist that religion is the main issue in the conflict. That makes it easier for everyone.

    Therefore, the main contribution in this kind of demonstration should be to expose the real issues at stake. The one step missing is from “why can’t we all get along” to “come on, say the truth, what is really going on over there”.

  2. Steven Ramey says:

    Absolutely agree that the conflict is not merely about belief. However, an overemphasis on interests can suggest that competitors are merely rational actors wanting the same things. The conflict over land and resources in Israel/Palestine carries added emotional weight because of beliefs in the sacrality of Jerusalem on all sides and beliefs that this land was once granted to their ancestors. The confluence of material interests validated by beliefs makes compromise that much more difficult.

  3. Mike Grimshaw says:

    It is what I term the ice-berg fallacy of Inter-faith dialogue in that inter-faith dialogue is not representative of most of the actors in any religious tradition. Rather we need to realise that the small 10% of the tips of the ‘faith-bergs’ engaged in mutal afformation of interfaith dialogue actually have more in common with each other than they tend to do with the vast majority of their ‘faith-berg’. In the tend it is the differences that are central and what keep people within a tradition. The differences become amplified with socio-economic and cultural differences and pressures.

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