Mennonite Communities

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Mennonite Communities

Post  MetaPenguin on Wed Feb 17, 2010 8:41 am

Due to a great number of Mennonite communities near where I am currently living, I have begun to think about their role in the matters being discussed here. What is your take on the significance of both the pacifism and active "peace works" (mcc.org) of the Mennonites in regards to what good religion has or has not had on the world?
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  Niels on Wed Feb 17, 2010 7:19 pm

I'd like to answer this in some detail, but right now I'm having too much fun learning Flash/HaXe. I've already got a screenful of ducks running for food. Tomorrow I hope to teach them how to eat, so I can start starving them. After that, just add sex, and evolution will take off.

I might be back on this subject - sometime...
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  Niels on Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:31 pm

I applaud the Mennonites for their pacifism. Pacifism is not a way to conquer the world, which is a pity, since I would love pacifism to take over.

I also applaud whatever help the Mennonites supply to the victims of disaster or war. I don't know their methods, but I hope they use their best knowledge and humanistic judgment to help - not all organizations do.
On the surface, I'd consider the Mennonites about the nicest communities one could have.

However, all that does not reflect on the role of religion. To make a connection with religion, you'd have to be sure that:
- A similar group without the same religion couldn't be as peaceful and helpful;
- A similar group with the same religion but in a different environment would act the same as the Mennonites.

You'll find that there's non-mennonite groups that are as peaceful and helpful as the mennonites are; you'll also find groups that share the same holy scripture but go on regular killing sprees.

Perhaps statistically followers of the Bible are more peaceful and helpful than others - but so far, statistics show the exact opposite.

I'd personally consider it pretty unlikely that scripture would help in being nice. Only a very small portion of the Bible talks about compassion and altruism; most speaks about hate, discrimination, genocide and torture - all in the name of the Loving Lord. If a group manages to discard all the bad stuff and focus on the good, then that's probably because they were good to begin with.

My main problem with the Mennonites would be that they believe in a non-existing sky-daddy. They could possibly do even more good with that delusion out of their way.
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  MetaPenguin on Sat Feb 20, 2010 10:05 am

Thanks for the thoughtful response! I hope this opens up some good conversation on the matter.

You know what is truly incredible about the Mennonites? Beyond their own pacifism (not only non-participation in aggression but also their Christ-like laying down of life) and their aid for those suffering (war, poverty, disease), they do this with the conviction that anything less is a deviation from their divine purpose as followers of Christ.

That's incredible to me! Many Christians give money to good causes or even aid those suffering from time to time, but the Mennonites have created a way of life that seeks to not only do no harm but give everything they have including their own lives to do the giving works of Christ. That's humbling to me.

Niels wrote: However, all that does not reflect on the role of religion. To make a connection with religion, you'd have to be sure that:
- A similar group without the same religion couldn't be as peaceful and helpful;
- A similar group with the same religion but in a different environment would act the same as the Mennonites.

Here you have two principles that in order for their work (and lives) to be a reflection on religion must be met. Thanks for this.

First, Mennonites must only be this way, "peaceful and helpful" (I'll add sacrificial) with their religion. The Mennonites were originally a Swiss and German Anabaptist movement but have become a worldwide interracial force for peace. So, they are a religious group alone. If it weren't for their religion, they would cease to be because that's what they are. Furthermore, the basis on which they find motivation, method, and support is not entirely based on "their best knowledge and humanistic judgment". They seek to emulate the peaceful example of Christ. So I would say that without religion, this group could not for two reasons be peaceful and helpful (and sacrificial).

Second, you bring up the idea that perhaps a group with the same religion but different environment might not act the same. Surely one could point to a number of Christian groups that do not act the same! Their is little doubt there. But we must also remember that Mennonites are like the other modern Anabaptist groups, pacifists. Moreover, the Mennonites have worked all over the world for centuries and have included those from various Christian backgrounds.

Niels wrote: I'd personally consider it pretty unlikely that scripture would help in being nice. Only a very small portion of the Bible talks about compassion and altruism; most speaks about hate, discrimination, genocide and torture - all in the name of the Loving Lord. If a group manages to discard all the bad stuff and focus on the good, then that's probably because they were good to begin with.

There is quiet a great deal in the Hebrew Bible that is difficult to deal with. That's a topic that is worth getting into. I think it would be debatable about the portions you bring up and their contents, but the point is taken. It is the Gospel that inspires these acts of love. I don't think that they would claim to discard any of the Bible but rather view the text by means of the Gospel of Christ. The Hebrew Bible is viewed as incomplete without the light of Christ. (That's my Apologetics for the day! Excuse me for that. Haha.)

Niels wrote: My main problem with the Mennonites would be that they believe in a non-existing sky-daddy. They could possibly do even more good with that delusion out of their way.

The Mennonites are a group that does so much good, why couldn't they get rid of the religious bit and do even better? Largely, I understand where you're coming from. But it's important to keep in mind that the religious bit is why and how they do good. Why they do it is for the love (and sacrifice) given to them; and how they do it is by following the example of Christ. I don't think that they or perhaps any Christian can separate Christ from their acts of loving kindness (or sacrifice).

I'm interested also in hearing what SySy and Clint have to say about this topic.
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  SyntheticSylence on Sat Feb 20, 2010 11:04 am

The Mennonites have an interesting history of which I am all too ignorant of. But I do know that for their size they do some of the best pound for pound charity efforts. They're one of those groups within Christianity that really do have an influence beyond their size, and I think we have seen that and will continue to see that in the coming years.

What I'm grateful for is their emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount and throwing that in our face whenever the rest of Christianity steers too far away. They launched an awesome and necessary corrective to Reinhold Niebuhr's Christian Realism, and at the moment I'm not so sure where I set myself.

So I think they're a bold and necessary witness.
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  Niels on Sat Feb 20, 2010 11:38 am

A few point:
- The mennonites are not alone in sacrificing themselves for the good of others. Check out the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. These organisations are based on humanitarian ethics without a need for either God or the Bible.

- I accept that the Mennonites are bound together by religion, and that without it, their community would fall apart - but that doesn't say much about religion itself. I could start a "Redheaded Disaster Aid", that would fall apart when the members lost their hair. Such a group would not prove that redheads are more altruistic than others. Same with religion among the mennonites: They are religious AND they are good, but a causality needs more proof.

- I distrust religious aid, because it's not always targeted at bringing relief in the form of medication, food, shelter and safety. For an extreme example, you should read up on the Scientologists in Haiti, who arrived to provide "aid" by laying on hands. They didn't bring any food, transportation or medicines; they used the scarce resources meant for the starving population. Christianity has made similar errors in the past. I much prefer relief groups that are clear about their purpose. They should provide real help, not prayer, preaching and salvation.

I'm not saying the Mennonites don't provide true help. I don't know; I only know that the Bible is easily used as an excuse to provide "help" that people could easily do without.
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  MetaPenguin on Sat Feb 20, 2010 1:20 pm

Thanks for the input.

You are completely right to say that non-Religious groups do a whole lot of good. That should not be forgotten in this topic. But I'm not sure I agree with the "Redheaded Disaster Aid" idea. I think I understand what you are going at. But it's not that religion brings them together to do good, it is because of their faith that they do good. Your redhead group finds unity in their hair color but that's not why they do what they do. As you hinted to, if they lost their hair they would keep doing good. Mennonites don't just work together because they are all Mennonites, being Mennonites gives them the why and how to serve. They serve by means of the Gospel because of the Gospel.

I am going to have to disagree that their good work and their religion needs to be causally proven. They testify that this is the reason they serve. They would have to be misleading the world or completely unaware of their motivations for it to not be true. There isn't any reason for them to be lying (there are plenty of non-Religious aid groups and the Mennonites work with them!) and for a community to sacrifice itself in the way they have, they would have know their motivations! Religious or not, giving up one's life takes a whole lot of will.

I couldn't agree more with your last point! If one is going to help, then just help! Christians have brought their aid in the past at a great price, conversion! But this has never been the method of the Mennonites. Check out MCC.org. This is the central planning site of the Mennonites of North America. Their work is all about aid and not conversion.
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  Niels on Sat Feb 20, 2010 1:46 pm

MetaPenguin wrote:I am going to have to disagree that their good work and their religion needs to be causally proven. They testify that this is the reason they serve. They would have to be misleading the world or completely unaware of their motivations for it to not be true.
Enter modern psychology...
There's evidence that people are hardly, if at all, aware of their own motivations. You'll find, for instance, many people that claim to behave decently "because God told them to". Since many animals share our morals, it's hardly likely that those God-believers would behave very differently without their belief. These people are not aware of their true motivation: The mirror-cells that have evolved in our brains.

The deeper you go in psychology, the more the notions of "free will" or "rational behavior" seem to melt away. It appears that most of our actions are much too fast for our conscious to follow, let alone to command. We act; and only after that, when asked, we make up a rationization.

I remember a recent study into this. People were shown pairs of portraits and asked to chose the most attractive one. Some time later, they were shown those portraits again, and asked for an explanation for their decision. What the test subjects didn't know was that some of their answers were reversed. They made up fabrications for a decision that they never made!

Now, if the Bible or its religions were in general a motivation for good behavior, then statistics would show so - and only statistics. Alas, statistics show the opposite. Prisons for instance have a higher religion-ratio than the population. Religious western cultures have lower life standard, lower life expectancy, lower education levels and higher birth mortality than secular countries.

This is still not proof that religion is for the worse. Religion and misery might have the same cause, with neither of them influencing the other.
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  MetaPenguin on Sat Feb 20, 2010 1:57 pm

Niels wrote: Enter modern psychology...

Thanks, Niels. I'm not very well informed when it comes to modern psychology. I'm interested in seeing the study you mentioned. Is there a way that can be posted as a new thread on this forum?

Niels wrote: The deeper you go in psychology, the more the notions of "free will" or "rational behavior" seem to melt away.

I've found the same thing with a study of religion as well. I can't say that I believe in a "free will" anymore.
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  SyntheticSylence on Sat Feb 20, 2010 2:27 pm

It appears that most of our actions are much too fast for our conscious to follow, let alone to command. We act; and only after that, when asked, we make up a rationalization.

I've heard about this, isn't it assumed now that a decision is made in the mind six seconds before it is rationalized or made conscious? I did some reading into this and thought it was fascinating. It definitely will take a long time to get a clearer picture or swallow what we have learned.

It reminds me of a case study I had read about where some guy had lost the emotion center of his brain. All that was left was his reason, so he could only rationally determine things, and he could no longer live by himself. He could not do anything, any decision required emotional stimuli. He could rationally determine he needed to eat, but he could not rationally determine what to eat. And so on.

But I think to say that all decisions are made in a lower level, and that consciousness has no say in them is far too simplistic. We certainly have consciousness, we certainly interact using this consciousness, and we certainly change given our interactions. I know I have changed many beliefs based on argumentation. And that while inside me lies a beast, I can in many instances tame it.

So while we are not as free as we would think ourselves to be, I don't think everything is determined by irrational impulse. An analogy I've heard is that it's like our consciousness is riding an elephant. The elephant makes all the motions, and is doing the work, and it can be scared easily and do crazy things, but it can also be tamed and directed.

In this way, I think we can trust the rationalization of others. And I think this view is an accepted one in Modern Psychology.

And concerning the statistics, how do they change when you take into account people claiming no religion, but not necessarily atheism? But regardless of that fact, a small segment of the population is atheist, and mostly well to do and not in other demographics that more accurately determine crime.

But I guess what I really want to ask, and what I think is most relevant is this: If you do believe that these Mennonites are only rationalizing their innate altruistic impulses, then does it not follow that Jihadists are only rationalizing their innate barbaric impulses? And if this is the case what function does a specific religious system have, if any?
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Re: Mennonite Communities

Post  Niels on Sat Feb 20, 2010 2:27 pm

MetaPenguin wrote:[I'm not very well informed when it comes to modern psychology. I'm interested in seeing the study you mentioned. Is there a way that can be posted as a new thread on this forum?
I'll post them here; we can always move them if they invite discussion.

Here's a nice one on "free will:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13658-brain-scanner-predicts-your-future-moves.html
By scanning the brains of test subjects as they pressed one button or another - though not a computer mouse - researchers pinpointed a signal that divulged the decision about seven seconds before people ever realised their choice. The discovery has implications for mind-reading, and the nature of free will.

"Our decisions are predetermined unconsciously a long time before our consciousness kicks in," says John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience in Berlin, who led the study. It definitely throws our concept of free will into doubt, he adds.

And here' the one on that specific test:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227046.400-choice-blindness-you-dont-know-what-you-want.html
Unknown to them, we sometimes used a double-card magic trick to covertly exchange one face for the other so they ended up with the face they did not choose. Common sense dictates that all of us would notice such a big change in the outcome of a choice. But the result showed that in 75 per cent of the trials our participants were blind to the mismatch, even offering "reasons" for their "choice".
(I now see that my description was incorrect: Choices were changed immediately.)
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