Religious Violence: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says: “Abraham himself sought to be a blessing to others regardless of their faith. That idea, ignored for many of the intervening centuries, remains the simplest definition of Abrahamic faith. It is not our task to conquer or convert the world or enforce uniformity of belief. It is our task to be a blessing to the world. The use of religion for political ends is not righteousness but idolatry . . . To invoke God to justify violence against the innocent is not an act of sanctity but of sacrilege.”
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An opinion piece article, by Paul Allen, in The Montreal Review takes on the idea that religions and their beliefs promote violent thought and actions in their followers, saying that the two words—religious and violence—do not necessarily correlate well with the historical record. This is an idea that is vocally put forth by atheists and secularists, who view religion in any form as an anathema.
In ”The Myth Of Religious Violence,” Allen, who is an associate professor in the department of theological studies at Concordia University. writes:
Recently, I stumbled across an ad for an interfaith event advertised in a local church bulletin. The notice began with these words: “Although religion has tended to cause wars and strife throughout the millennia, religion can now become the solution if we all declare that no matter which religion we follow, we recognize that we are all God’s children.”
I was immediately struck by this group’s acceptance of a myth, the myth of religious violence. You would think that a multi-faith group planning some coordinated programming would not plug the idea that faith is violent. Isn’t this sort of admission fatal to the acceptance of religious faith in Canadian society? If religious people believe that religions cause violence, then who could possibly object?
But, in fact, the myth of religious violence is just that: a myth. It’s a fable that ties together disparate facts and judgments of history that doesn’t pass the test of fair-minded scrutiny. Since 9/11, the myth of religious violence has taken on the status of unquestioned wisdom, a set of ideas that comedians impart to susceptible audiences and that politicians purvey to great advantage. Increasing unfamiliarity with the history and claims of various religions in our society suggests that atheist pundits have willing ears to hear how religion supposedly threatens our way of life.For some, most notably the New Atheists, the answer is unequivocally so. But loudness and forcefulness does not an argument make. The arguments always conveniently downplay state violence of non-religious ideologies like marxism (or communism as it is often called) committed by the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and North Korea. Equally important, you can find much violence in the rhetoric of political and economic revolutionaries, who espouse no religion. These are only a few examples. Such omissions are glaring for their absence, making the argument that the New Atheists put forth all the more weaker. I might not consider myself religious, but I consider myself just and rational, looking at all relevant and pertinent facts to form an idea.
Violence is a normal part of our civilization, but it should by no means be considered normative, at least from an ethical, philosophical and moral view (see normative ethics). Moreover, despite current evidence to the contrary, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues, we can also add, not from a religious view. Violence, more often than not. is political in nature and in purpose. Violence, history has shown, is used to advance a political agenda, whether to gain land, resources or ideological followers, whether religious or secular ones. It is also used as a means of enforcing a moral code, where violence is used as as a form of punishment for breaking a moral infraction, chiefly if it conforms to a biblical source with a long and ancient history.
That religion is often used as means of rallying the troops has a long history. (e,g, political Judaism, political Christianity, political Islam). Religion and politics make for a toxic brew; and much of the violence today is a result of this admixture in a battle against state secularism. Such can happen when a large minority, like the religiously minded, feel their way of life threatened, their ideas pushed to the margins and themselves alienated and ridiculed. (Secularism and the removal of religion from the public sphere needs further discussion in political circles.) Acknowledging this moral framework, this way of thinking, does not mean we have to approve it or excuse it away.
Nor does it mean that we can solve the problem of violence easily. Ridding the world of all religious belief, if that were at possible or even preferable, would not at all solve the problem of human violence. It might actually make it worse; religious belief has often proven a positive countervailing force against state oppression and violence; and, also, in many cases of state overreach. Religion, when understood as to its purpose and mission, can be a blessing to people, an idea that Rabbi Sacks puts forth in a rather persuasive and engaging manner.
No one familiar with world history, including more current events, would suggest that religion is free from the influences of totalitarian thought, or from political purposes, but to claim that religion alone is the greatest “evil” in the world is total nonsense and not supported by any thoughtful examination of the historical record. Truly, there is sufficient blame to go around. Asserting and broadcasting such a narrowly focused view is disingenuous at best and dishonest at worst; it is bad scholarship. Moreover, it is fear-mongering and demagoguery and the opposite of sincere and honest engagement and discussion.
If the truth be told, the proponents of violence are much larger in number than the cohort of the religiously minded or influenced. It includes a large number of persons who hold no religious views. It seems that, truthfully speaking, violence is a very human problem. If we want to end violence, we need to view it as the plague on humanity it is, and which it has always been.
In Errata: An examined life (1997), George Steiner writes:
Now we must learn to be one another's guests on what remains of this scarred, crowded earth. Our wars, our ethnic cleansings, the arsenals for massacres which flourish in even the most destitute of states, are territorial, Ideologies and the mutual hatreds they generate are territories of the mind. Men have, from the onset, slaughtered one another over a patch of ground, under differently coloured rags held aloft as banners, over shadings of difference in language or dialect. (55)Violence begins in the mind, and it is the mind where it begins to end.
For more, go to [MontrealReview]