Re: RELIGION: Religious propagation by force

Eric Watt Forste (
Sat, 28 Dec 1996 17:56:06 -0800

James Rogers wrote:
>Many religions have been propagated through force of the sword.
>In many cases this proved to be an effective technique. If religion
>is such a profoundly intertwined aspect of a person's being, how
>were so many countries and regions "converted" permanently and
>effectively simply by force, even if occupation was relatively
>transient? This seems to be inconsistent with the supposed nature
>of religion.

There's a phenomenon of "layering" in the development of religions.
It is both diachronic and synchronic. The paganized versions of
the saints that reemerge in the practice of Catholicism in some
areas is one example; the encrustation of superstition that surrounds
(or is embedded within) Mahayana Buddhism is another.

Conversion by the sword is a Skinnerian conversion. It can affect
only behavior, not the contents of the heart. It lays a behavioristic
veneer over a culture; but Skinnerians have faith that over time
the behavioristic veneer will leak into the heart. I suspect that
this conversion stratagem works better on some cultures than on

As for what you say about the supposed nature of religion, I guess
that you're referring to the purportedly deep connection between
religion and morality. Bill Bartley, a philosopher whose opinions
I happen to respect, wrote a monograph on just that subject which
I recommend, although it's a bit difficult to find. I found my copy
at a used bookstore in Berkeley.

(Obviously I'm not talking about blood pumps here; by "heart" I
mean some kind of poorly specified motivational information structure
encoded somehow in the physical structure of the nervous system,
and "which one" I mean to pick out by this is best expressed by
the traditional metaphorical term "heart". I know this sounds
pedantic, but I'm trying not to get tagged a "sensitive New Age
guy" here. I've got a reputation to maintain, after all. ;)

It just occurred to me that hearts are probably different in
different cultures. The very notion of "heart" I'm talking about
might or might not be a purely cultural phenomenon, depending on
your opinions about the plasticity of mind. That's the way it is
with the vaguest sorts of social and psychological abstractions...
anything said about them can be understood as a self-fulfilling
prophecy, and therefrom an ulterior motive can always be inferred.
That's probably why we prefer to keep our discourse concrete.

Eric Watt Forste ++ ++