The National Catholic Review
Does religion promote violence?

The Boston Marathon bombings have fed fears of terrorism and also given new encouragement to one of our society’s preferred ways of dealing with the fear of terrorism: we assign it to the realm of the irrational, to which we oppose the rationality of our own society. The revelation that the perpetrators were Muslims from a part of the world that harbors Islamist militants has refueled one of the most persistent themes in public discourse in the West, the idea that religion has a tendency to promote violence. A spate of articles with titles like “Did Religion Motivate the Boston Bombers?” (The Washington Post) and “Boston Marathon Bombing Suspects Seen as Driven by Religion” (The Associated Press) appeared in the aftermath of the explosions.

What the bombers’ motivations were exactly has yet to be pieced together and may never be fully known. What drives a young man to blow up strangers is most often a volatile cocktail of hormone-saturated ingredients, not always fully transparent to the bomber himself. What is known, however, is that a version of Islam played some role in the Tsarnaev brother’s worldview. This fact is generally regarded as sufficient to count the Boston Marathon bombings as one more grim episode in a long history of religion-related violence. It is common in the secular West to run through a list of such episodes—the Crusades, the Inquisition, Aztec human sacrifices, the European Wars of Religion, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and so on—and conclude that religion has a peculiar tendency to lend itself to violent acts.

There is no denying that faith traditions like Christianity and Islam can and do contribute to violence. Some form of Islam appears to have been present in the mix of the Tsarnaev brothers’ motivations. It will not get Islam off the hook to say that they were not good Muslims, just as it will not get Christianity off the hook to say that the Crusaders were not really Christians because they did not understand the true message of Jesus. Islam and Christianity are not just sets of doctrines but lived experiences that are constituted in part by what people make of them.

We can grant the commonsense observation that Christianity and Islam and other faith traditions can contribute to violence. The conventional wisdom, however, goes beyond this to claim that religion has a peculiar tendency to promote violence—that is, religion is more inclined toward violence than secular ideologies and institutions. In other words, the idea that religion causes violence depends on contrasting religion with something less prone to violence. That something is the “secular.” Religion is thought to be especially prone to irrationality and fanaticism and absolutism, all of which are root causes of violence, in ways that secular realities are not. It is for this reason that secular societies like our own have tried to tame religion by removing it from the public sphere and erecting high walls between church and state. The Boston bombings seem to provide more evidence for the wisdom of taming religious passions.

Religion and Nationalism

The more we burrow into the motivations of the Boston bombers, however, the more complicated the matter becomes. The brothers’ homeland of Chechnya has indeed become a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. The last decade saw spectacular and horrific attacks by Chechen rebels on a Moscow theater and an elementary school in Ossetia. Traditionally, Sunni Islam in Chechnya has been peaceful, with a strong Sufi presence. Some scholars think that the Chechens converted to Islam from the 16th to the 19th centuries in part to gain Ottoman support against Russian invaders. Russia officially annexed Chechnya in the early 19th century, and Chechen rebels have fought numerous rebellions over the last two centuries trying to break free from Russian domination.

The latest iterations of such rebellion were sparked by the breakup of the Soviet Union. Chechens hoped to secure their independence just as other former Soviet republics did, but their drive toward independence was crushed by two brutal Russian military operations that included direct attacks on civilians. The Russian government saw Chechnya as part of Russia, though now less than 2 percent of its population is Russian. Russia also wanted to discourage other ethnic minorities from seeking their independence. The brutality of the Russian response has inflamed Chechen nationalism, which in the last two decades has been mixed with Islamic jihadism of a Wahhabi strain.

In the media coverage surrounding the Tsarnaev brothers, the role of religion will continue to be debated at length; the role of nationalism will be passed over in silence. There will be no debates over the fanaticism caused by devotion to the idea of a Chechen nation, nor the violence caused by Russian insistence that Chechnya remain a part of greater Russia. Why is this so? Why does devotion to jihadism strike us as peculiarly dangerous, while the much better-armed devotion to Russian national pride strikes us as mundane and generally defensible? Why do we prefer to talk about the Tsarnaev brothers’ relation to Islam and not about their stated political opposition to the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan?

Westerners are fascinated by the nexus of “religion and violence.” War on behalf of nationalism and freedom and oil and other such mundane secular matters hardly counts as violence at all. At the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar in 2007, nearly four years into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, David Satterfield, senior adviser and coordinator for Iraq in the office of the U.S. Secretary of State, gave a speech condemning those in Iraq “who try to achieve their goals through the use of violence.” As the journalist Rami Khouri sardonically commented, “As if the U.S. had not used weapons when invading Iraq!”

Nothing, of course, justifies the Boston bombings. My point is simply that we prefer to locate “religious” causes of violence and become quite incurious when “secular” causes like nationalism are in play. Why? Because we are accustomed to dividing life into separate religious and secular spheres. We have been habituated to think that devotion to one’s religion is fine within limits, while public patriotic devotion to one’s nation is generally a good thing. We are appalled at violence on behalf of religion, but we generally accept the necessity and even the virtue of killing for one’s country.

Are these two kinds of violence—religious and secular—really such different things? There is a growing body of scholars who question whether the binary distinction between religious and secular is as obvious as we tend to assume it is. There are many scholars, for example, who consider nationalism a religion. It is marked by solemn rituals of sacred communion, salvation from peril and blood sacrifice on behalf of the collective body. Carlton Hayes’s book Nationalism: A Religion represents one such approach. Braden Anderson writes, “Nationalism is itself a type of revivalist religion.” According to Carolyn Marvin and David Ingle, “nationalism is the most powerful religion in the United States, and perhaps in many other countries.” Robert Bellah has identified the public religion of the United States as “civil religion,” invoking a generic “God” and based on a heavily ritualized devotion to the salvific role of the United States in world events. Traditional religions like Christianity and Judaism are still practiced in the United States, but they belong in the private realm, though they often lend significant support to the public cult of civil religion.

If nationalism is a religion, what does this do to the idea that religion has a tendency to promote violence? That idea depends on a sharp line between religious and secular ideologies and institutions. But if a “secular” thing like nationalism is a religion, then the line becomes blurry, and the notion that religion causes violence begins to fall apart.

The Meaning of Religion

We are clearly dealing with two different definitions of religion here. In modern Western societies, we tend to assume that religion refers to forms of worship that explicitly invoke a God or gods. This approach is called a substantivist approach because it is based on the substance of people’s beliefs. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and a few others qualify as “world religions.” Nationalism, Marxism, capitalism and so on are not religions because they do not refer directly to God or gods. They therefore belong in the category of “secular.” Secular ideologies and institutions are generally thought to be more mundane and rational, less absolutist, than beliefs that invoke otherworldly gods. For many people, this explains why religion is more prone to violence than secular things.

When we begin to examine the substantivist approach to religion, however, significant problems appear. Some systems of belief that are usually considered religions—many forms of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, for example—do not refer to God or gods. Substantivist approaches tend to deal with this problem by finding a more inclusive term than god—the transcendent, supernatural, transempirical, salvific and so on—to define what qualifies as a religion. But the more inclusive the defining term is, the more difficult it is to exclude things like nationalism from the category of religion. Is nationalism not also transcendent? Are not all values transempirical? Why exclude godless Marxism from the category if godless Buddhism is included?

The second approach to defining religion deals with this problem by simply expanding the category to include nationalism, Marxism, capitalism and other so-called “secular” ideologies and practices. This approach is called “functionalist” because it defines religion not according to the substance of what people say they believe but by how something actually functions in people’s lives. In 2001, when California’s recently deregulated electricity supply system experienced rolling blackouts, an economics professor who had been one of the architects of the deregulation was quoted in The New York Times expressing his conviction that the free market always works better than government regulation: “I believe in that premise as a matter of religious faith.” A substantivist would say he is only speaking metaphorically. A functionalist says it makes no difference if he thinks it is a metaphor or not; what matters is the way he behaves, that is, the way free market ideology actually functions in his life. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If it acts like a religion, it is a religion. If people pledge allegiance to a flag, salute it, ritually raise and lower it and are willing to kill and die for it, it does not much matter if they acknowledge it is only a piece of cloth and not a god.

This approach should not seem exotic to a Christian; it is the basic approach taken in the Bible. The Bible is not interested, as functionalists are, in coming up with a definition of religion. But like functionalism, the critique of idolatry that is found everywhere from the First Commandment to the Book of Revelation is based on the recognition that people treat all kinds of things as if they were gods.

Sometimes the Bible criticizes the Israelites for mistaking empty idols for real gods. More often, however, the problem of idolatry is not one of belief but of behavior. Idolatry is not so much a metaphysical error as misplaced loyalty, a lack of trust in the one true God. In the First Book of Samuel the Lord equates the Israelites’ request for a king with serving other gods, for they have rejected the Lord from being king over them (8:7-8). Isaiah accuses the Israelites of putting their trust in horses and chariots—military might, in other words—rather than the Lord (31:1-3). Jesus says we must choose between two masters, God and wealth (Mt 6:24). Paul warns the Philippians of those for whom “their god is their bellies” (3:19). Such people presumably do not believe that a deity resides in their breadbasket. Most commonly from a biblical point of view, idolatry is not mistakenly believing that something mundane is a god, but rather devoting one’s resources and energies and life to serving something that is not God. Whether or not one claims to believe in the biblical God is not the crucial point.

The crucial point is this: people devote themselves to all sorts of things. People treat all sorts of things as their religion. With regard to the question of violence, people kill and die for all sorts of things; there is no good reason to suppose that people are more inclined to kill for a god than for a flag, for a nation, for freedom, for free markets, for the socialist revolution, for access to oil and so on. In certain contexts, ideologies of jihad or the sacrificial atonement of Christ can lend themselves to violence. In other contexts, belief in the free market or in Greater Russia or in the United States as worldwide liberator is what releases killing energies. If the biblical critique of idolatry is on the mark, there is no essential difference between the two, between religious and secular causes. There is no religious/secular distinction in the Bible. In the Middle Ages, the religious/secular distinction was a distinction between two types of clergy; it meant nothing like what we mean by it now. The way we now use the religious/secular binary is a modern, Western invention; it does not simply respond to the nature of things.

The Heart of the Matter

So why was this binary invented? It has to do with the separation of church power from civil power in the modern state. After the civil authorities triumphed over ecclesiastical authorities in early modern Europe, the church would be in charge of something essentially private called “religion,” and the state would be in charge of public, “secular” affairs. The history is a long and complicated one. What is important for our present purposes is to see how the religious/secular divide functions in our public discourse about violence. It serves to draw our attention toward certain types of practices—Islam, for example—and away from other types of practices, such as nationalism. Religion is the bogeyman for secular society, that against which we define ourselves. We have learned to tame religion, to put it in its proper, private place; they (Muslims, primarily) have not. We live in a publicly secular and therefore rational society; they have not learned to separate secular matters like politics from religion, and so they are prone to irrationality. We hope they will come to their senses and be more like us. In the meantime, we reserve the right periodically to bomb them into being more rational.

The idea that religion causes violence, in other words, can be used to blind us in the West to our own forms of fanaticism and violence. When we label our own devotions as secular, we tend to treat them as if they were not the subject of violence at all. We are endlessly fascinated by the violence supposedly hardwired into Iran’s Shiite Islam; we prefer not to dwell on the Shah’s 26-year reign of U.S.-supported secularist terror. We remember that the ayatollahs imposed an Islamic dress code when the Shah was ousted in 1979; we forget that the first shah imposed a secular dress code in 1924.

It must be repeated—though it should go without saying—that nothing justifies the violence done in the name of Islam or any other faith. My point is simply that nothing justifies violence done in the name of secular faiths either, and that there is no essential difference between the two kinds of faith. Both are based on pre-rational narratives of belonging and deliverance. A sound approach to violence avoids making sweeping statements about religion, as if we knew what that was, and adopts a more empirical, case by case approach, on a level playing field between religious and secular ideologies and practices. Wahhabist Islam will not escape scrutiny in examining the Chechen conflict, but neither will secular, Russian nationalism. Forms of evangelical Christianity may be relevant to American military adventures abroad, but more so are secular, Enlightenment forms of salvation narrative that fly under the dangerously ambiguous banner of “freedom.”

The myth that religion promotes violence depends on dividing the world up into us and them, the publicly secular and the publicly religious, the rational and the irrational. The irony is that violence feeds on such binaries. To do away with such binaries is one small step toward peace.

William T. Cavanaugh is senior research professor in the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology at DePaul University. He is the author of five books, including The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford University Press).

Comments

Jim Slark | 11/11/2013 - 6:54pm

I am frustrated with this post, within which I have posted comments. My thesis is that two Abrahamic religions mandate adherents' conversion of others. Because of what I consider possible extreme consequences of this in action and in fact, I have been seeking serious discussion of this concept, here and elsewhere, but have received none. Perhaps I can break down my questions. For instance, George Farahat references (7/22/13 11:51) a link to what I assume is a 'standard operating procedure' for Christians (specifically Roman Catholics) http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/docume.... Paragraph 26 suggests religious freedom is a gift from gods, apparently it cannot exist without gods. So as an atheist am I exempt from being forced to convert to a religion acceptable to you, so I might participate in religious freedom? I ask respectfully, but since I receive no reply on the thread of my thought, my frustration.
Because of the potential significance of my observation that mandating conversion of others yields hatred war and killing, and indeed is true in fact as evidenced by current events and by history I beg for a response. To underline my discomfort I will add another concept: hatred, wars and killing are works of a devil , which exist only as part of religions. Since Christianity and Islam religions mandate converting others, are they in fact works of a devil? Are these religions the devil's creation, for surely their results are? As a collateral observation, is this in fact a realization that gods exist, if for no other reason the death and destruction stemming from these religions signify the existence of that which only occurs with gods? Please, anybody. Keep this thread alive.

J Cosgrove | 8/15/2013 - 10:27am

There is a new course from the Teaching Company on the Crusades. This is their second course on the Crusades. There is also another course on theCrusades by St. Louis University professor, Thomas Madden.

The new Teaching Company course is called "How the Crusades Changed History." Here is a link to it:

http://www.thegreatcourses.com/tgc/courses/course_detail.aspx?cid=3931

A few fascinating points.

The term "crusade" was not used till about 100 years after the first crusade. The people were called "Pilgrims" not crusaders.

The freedom of Jerusalem was not the main objective of the crusades. The Eastern Roman Empire had lost most of its territory to the Arabs/Muslims and starting in the 900's Turks from Central Asia starting migrating into Anatolia. The Eastern Roman Empire had come to an accommodation with the Arabs but the Turks were continuing their aggression. At the battle of Manzikert in 1071 Constantinople lost a lot more land to the Turks and the emperor was actually captured..

For the next 24 years Constantinople came to an accomodation with the Turks but then a key person died and others started more hostilities. Alexis who was the emperor asked the pope for help. The price for the help was the reuniting of the two Churches.

Urban II then began looking for the help and this eventually led to the first Crusade. What happened as a result was quite different than what was planned. No reuniting of the Churches but the forces did eventually capture Jerusalem which was under new rule after several years of fighting over control in the Muslim world.

So our basic understanding of the Crusades is colored by later day people using it to discredit the Church. It certainly wasn't an entirely noble effort but it is not what appears in the history books or popular literature.

George Farahat | 8/14/2013 - 12:01am

The article raises complex questions. I agree with J Cosgrove that the Crusades were not motivated by hatred but rather to save the Holy Land from Islamic aggression there. However, if conscience is the final judge then most aggression by Muslims or Christians can be subjectively justified on account of ignorance or negligence to know God. Then the question of religion becomes where to find the absolute truth. In Christianity, ultimate truth is not a doctrine but a self-giving love relationship of Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. We can only imitate God to become God.

J Cosgrove | 8/12/2013 - 12:07pm

I finally read this article after seeing it for several days. It is at best incoherent. It seems to say that whatever organizing principle that one uses to govern a specific group of people will lead to violence. I am not sure I agree with that.

I do agree with the proposition that religion is frequently singled out as the main cause of conflict and that is nonsense. If anything some religions have had an amelioration affect on conflict in world history. Christianity has a tough problem because it's basic doctrine makes violence unacceptable so when it is not perfect, it is held out at a prime offender when in general its effect has been just the opposite.

I doubt that anyone who brings up the crusades knows much about them. Yes, there were some very bad things that happened during the crusades but not as many as those who invoke them would find if they were examined closely. They started in response to over 4 centuries of Muslim incursions into what once was Christian lands. The immediate stimulus was the Turkish invasions of Anatolia from Central Asia. Most of the 12 crusades ended up as failures and in the end did little to stop the Muslim/Turkish aggression. The Inquisition is another example of a few very bad incidents but in general the various Inquisitions were harmless.

The history of the world has been one of violence and this violence did not start with the prominence of religion as the cause. The reasons were mainly pure power and economic. In the 20th century we had nearly 200 million die in wars that were not religion related. The most recent one was in the Congo where nearly 10 million died in the 1990s' and early 2000's. Dwarfed what happened in the so called "War on Terrorism."

michael baland | 8/9/2013 - 4:01pm

Conflicts are ultimately about power and authority. Nationalism, politics, religion, etc. are just constructs used for justification.

Jim Slark | 8/10/2013 - 3:06pm

you seem to be using the constructs designed by the author (secular 'faiths') to blame any but religion for wars and conflict. Nice try, but the gobbledegook spread in the article does just fine. Let's try again, the world has been continually devastated by hatred and killing in the name of various gods, especially yours and that of Islam, simply because you are mandated to convert others. You lie, cheat, hate and kill, all because you have the impossible task to make me a christianx, or a muslim, or whatever the next reach for power demands. Instead of dancing the dance of denial why not write an article addressing my claims, when the truth is so clear.

Jim Slark | 8/8/2013 - 4:12pm

crickets

Jim Slark | 8/7/2013 - 12:36pm

"To do away with such binaries is one small step toward peace". The only way to reduce the binaries is to Christianize them, to remove them as a source of the 'dangerously ambiguous banner of "freedom"'. Convert the heathen. In my mind you are preaching violence, because attempting to convert will cause violence. Especially in a world where two major religions demand converting the other. My suggestion for stopping middle east violence? get religion out of your governments. Of course religion is too powerful there to accomplish that. If religion gets that power in this country we are, well, in danger of losing our democracy, just like the middle east.
You penultimate paragraph needs some rethought, imo. 'No essential difference between the two kinds of faith'? Please.

Des Farrell | 8/5/2013 - 7:13pm

“You must ask God to give you power to fight against the sin of pride which is your greatest enemy – the root of all that is evil, and the failure of all that is good. For God resists the proud.”
St. Vincent de Paul

Jim Slark | 8/6/2013 - 10:32pm

@Des Farrell to whom is your comment addressed?

Jim Slark | 8/5/2013 - 4:38pm

Start again. You are wrong, religions that mandate others' conversion must lead to violence, always, think inquisition. Today's Christian religion takes part in the spreading of lies, hate, killing just to advance it's hold on Americans. Deny if you wish, but the truth is obvious. My take is any believing in non-existent supernatural beings will and can do anything, because they are obligated from that non-existent power to convert others.

Jim Slark | 8/5/2013 - 5:22pm

of course you can deny this, at which time I will ask you to prove the existence of any god(s). What usually follows is a long stream of gobbledegook which leads nowhere, because there are no god(s). A constant search by believers for tens of centuries have proven without doubt, at least in my mind, that no gods exist. If they do the whole world would be bowing down in awe before them, we do not and never will.

Bill Mazzella | 7/31/2013 - 8:13pm

Regrettable that so many comments were directed at Muslims, Christian and government officials rather than relating to the author's central point that violence exists as well in the secular realm as it does in the religious area. As far as Christians are concerned the two revered Fathers of the Church, West and East, Augustine and Athanasius, did more to incite violence especially using the State than anyone. We need to stop the following ot these two who corrupted the words of Jesus in pursuing ambition over love of neighbor. The Anointing of Jesus contains our plan for life. Not these two false prophets.

Keyran Moran | 7/28/2013 - 9:52am

The fact of the matter is that the USA is governed by a coalition of three parties: the War Party, the Money Party and the God Party. WTCs own Catholicism and its bishops are doing next to nothing for Truth & Justice by its Pro-Active SILENCE. The RCC both in the USA and in Europe preaches hardly a word about the endless Force&Fraud of the Israel Lobby. In this way, the Church--by indirection-- supported the violence of Gaza and will support the next Gazan slaughter of the innocents.

BRUCE SNOWDEN | 7/25/2013 - 2:23pm

Does religion promote violence? Unfortunately yes, sometimes even within Christianity, although not so much anymore. There are however, a few crazies who call themselves Christian who still promote violence, but for the most part among those of us who claim that “Alleluia is our song” it’s pretty much a “been there done that” issue. In some parts of the world non-Christian religionists still kill people who do not agree with them.

Come to think of it, in a sense, not even the Prince of Peace always opted for the peaceful way. What do I mean? Well, with head-shaking reluctance and apology, heaven sometimes gives allowance to the reign of human perversity which often involved killing , see the OT and in the NT starting at least with Herod’s slaughter of all male infants and toddlers, two years old and under, Herod hoping to wipe out the Magi’s “Newly Born King of the Jews.” At the other end of his earthly life cycle, Calvary, Jesus as planned didn’t say as the end neared, “Hey Guys, you have it all wrong!” He just let violence rule the day. Three days later all those who did him in could say, “We should have listened!” If everyone “listened” the Root of Evil would wilt! What is the Root of Evil? It is human perversity.

Obviously, religious people killing in God’s Name, in the name of righteousness, is so absurd that it’s hard to believe that it ever existed and for some still exists. Therein and therefrom all sin arises. It is like the stench of that singularly strange plant whose flower smells like rotting flesh, attractive only to swarms of flies!

This is a small, incomplete observation, a shallow reflection on a not so complex, complexity, truly of itself contradictory to true righteousness. Yet from the Christian point of view, somehow, part of the Pauline teaching says, if one loves ALL THINGS work TOGETHER, not individually, UNTO GOOD. This wrinkles the forehead, finding refuge and comfort in the realization that no one knows the Mind of God and no one has ever been His Councilor, a dizzying conclusion relative to this Root of Evil, twisted as it is around the human persona. As Paul put it, human perversity in its culpable attachment to the Root of Evil which is sin, makes us do what we don’t want to do and causes us not to do what we do want to do! Who delivers from this calamitous reality? Jesus Christ! At least so it seems to me.

Laicus Romanus | 7/25/2013 - 2:55am

Although I agree with much of what this article is saying, it is not as Roman Catholic as I would expect from America Magazine. The author quotes the Bible like a Protestant would do, and does not quote a single Pope. This would be fine if it had no consequence, but in my view, the statement that "it will not get Christianity off the hook to say that the Crusaders were not really Christians because they did not understand the true message of Jesus" is regrettable, because it ignores and perhaps dismisses Pope John Paul II's effort to launch a "purification of memory" concerning the crusades. I prefer John Paul II's hermeneutics of rupture to Mr Cavanaugh's hermeneutic of continuity concerning the crusades.

Vincent Gaitley | 7/24/2013 - 3:35pm

Please don't tease us, Mr. Cavanaugh. Let us know at once how we can do away with the binary notion of us and them, especially between the Muslims and us. But if you suggest that we must "dialogue", be diplomatic, be ecumenical, get to know our Islamic brothers, sing together, and eat more hummus, let me suggest that some of the violence stems not at all from a lack of understanding, it stems from our accurate assessments of each other. We may be human, but we are different, and that's not a false divide. Violence is justified easily in the name of self-defense, so nations, religions, groups of all kinds defend themselves in the same fashion. Essentially, we know our neighbors, have measured and weighed them, and found them wanting. And don't bash the evangelical American Christians for military adventures, either. Catholics have had plenty to do with the US military from the beginning, especially fighting "For God and Country". It also seems to me that the really dangerously ambiguous thing here is your notion of "religion", not freedom. Religious strife does cause some violence and it is rather facile to attribute that upon a divide of us and them. Violence is commonly found among folks with common interests and can not be so easily divided. Arabs kill more Arabs than we do, or Israelis do. And Christians have savaged each other for centuries. Has Catholic not killed Catholic? As for secular or civil religions, well, mine is baseball and the Phillies have been killing me most of my life.
The religious and secular impose and inform each other in a hot human kitchen; baked goods comprise common ingredients and are always heated, yet I never confuse cake with bread, nor pie with cupcakes. The phenomenology of our baked in original sin is the easiest thing to understand in religion, that is, people treat each other crummy.

George Farahat | 7/24/2013 - 12:41pm

I think that most religious people are driven by zeal for what they believe their religion calls them to do in order to be "saved" and eternally happy. Their behavior towards others will almost always be influenced by the way the message of religion is communicated to them. The model drives the followers according to his own behavior which is also influenced by his genetics, his upbringing and environment but always working with God's grace or not. An example is St. Francis of Assisi. Although he was rich, he was able to abandon his selfish attachment to material things. Today St. Francis is also a model for many people. They have the opportunity to reject materialism which breeds envy among leaders in organizations and governments. A more social justice policy by the political establishment may be one way to regulate the free-market. In the U.S. and Canada this policy is needed not only internally but also with regard to dealing with poor countries based on human conscience. Religion is never separate from society and the human condition that it aspires to make better. At the same time, violent ways of implementing religious convictions or political ambitions in the name of religion must not be tolerated. This is a message to the U.S. Government of Barack Obama especially in the way he and his policy makers are trying to advance their country's self-interest at the expense of Christians in countries of the Middle East. Everyone in the world has a right to live peacefully. It is hypocritical to state that America supports democracy and human rights while she is in fact creating more divisions. Wake up!

Richard Romm | 7/23/2013 - 1:28am

Historically speaking, some religious traditions promote and justify violence, while others promote peace. Let us first examine those religions that promote peace: the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Anabaptists, Amish, Mennonites, Buddhists, Zen Buddhists, Shakers, and Cathars, to name a few. These religions espouse pacifism at all costs, even in the face of crisis. They have excommunicated adherents who have fought in wars and committed acts of violence.

Let us next examine those religions that have historically promoted, condoned and justified war: Judaism [read the Old Testament, particularly Joshua's conquest of Canaan], Roman Catholicism [read Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews – A History, read about the various Inquisitions, the NINE (9) Crusades--yes, there were NINE offensive campaigns, and countless massacres of heretics, Jews, Muslims, other religious minorities, and indigenous peoples, slavery, and the Holocaust), Eastern Orthodoxy [read the history of the Byzantine Empire and pogroms in the Russian Empire], Protestantism [read about the Reformation, the burning of witches, the violent enslavement of Indians and Africans, countless wars with native peoples, and the Holocaust]; Islam [read about the Umayyad and Abbasid conquests of Arabia, the Near East and North Africa, the Ottoman campaigns in Europe and the Mediterranean], and Hinduism [read the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita]. Adherents of these religions have waged war in the modern era. These religions reward their warriors with riches, decorations and laurels and bless their soldiers on the battlefield.

The Eastern religious philosophies of Confucianism, Shintoism, Jainism, Sikhism and others have at various times advocated pacifism but have promoted violence and warfare on a colossal scale at various times in history (for Sikhs and Shintos, it is a great honor to die on the battlefield).

The bottom line is that there are some religious traditions that promote and value peace above all, and there are those that promote, condone and justify violence, and bless outright offensive warfare.

George Farahat | 7/22/2013 - 11:51pm

It is pathetic that the Government of the U.S. and major Western countries continue to support the islamization of the Middle East and are working from a perspective of supremacy trying to contain the ascending economies of Russia and China. You dare to condemn Russia for protecting its civil people attacked by Chechnian rebels! I thought that a Catholic publication such as yours will recognize the suffering your government is inducing on millions in Egypt and Syria as well as in North Africa. You should be reminded by the Apostolic Exhortation of Benedict XVI on Christianity in the Middle East in 2012 (See it here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/docume...). As a Catholic, I urge you to reconsider your stance on justice.

Vincent Varnas | 7/22/2013 - 6:14pm

The distinction between secular and religious warfare is blurry for some and clear to others. Consider the lyrics of the ballad: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" (the Civil War in America), if there is any doubt about this. On the other hand, consider Sgt. (Corporal) Alvin York who found that his conscientious objection based upon the Fifth Commandment ("thou shalt not kill") was not an impediment to participating in WWI as a soldier when read in the context of Mark 12:17, "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God". That neatly compartmentalized the secular from the religious in war.

Rory Connor | 7/20/2013 - 2:09am

"We have been habituated to think that devotion to one’s religion is fine within limits, while public patriotic devotion to one’s nation is generally a good thing. We are appalled at violence on behalf of religion, but we generally accept the necessity and even the virtue of killing for one’s country."

It is my my experience (in Ireland) that the OPPOSITE is the case. The kind of people who blame religion for violence are the type who would previously have been apologists for Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot or Kim Il Sung. To paraphrase George Orwell, they took their cooking from Paris and their opinions from Moscow and they were basically motivated by hatred of their own society. (They most certainly did NOT believe in "the virtue of killing for one's country".) Nowadays these people have precious few Communist dictators they can transfer their loyalty to, so their Nihilism is out in the open - not that it was very well hidden in the past. It takes the form of hatred of the Catholic Church, of Christianity in general and of blaming all evil on Religion.

Professor Richard Dawkins has stated that "‘Horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place.’ Is HE a great patriot who believes in killing for his country?

Chris NUNEZ | 7/19/2013 - 12:37pm

Your statement " We have learned to tame religion, to put it in its proper, private place; they (Muslims, primarily) have not." doesn't fly. What happened this past election year, that is the saber rattling of some of our bishops and taking what appeared to many of us to be partisan positions shows me otherwise.

E.Patrick Mosman | 7/19/2013 - 12:28pm

Mohammed is recorded as dying, on or about, 632 AD. And what followed was not an "under seige" mentality. Wars for enrichment followed.
Islam had its own agenda long before the Crusades. If peaceful -- what were Muslim armies doing in Europe 300 years before the Crusades? And hundred of years thereafter?
Seventy-seven years after Mohammed's death, in 711 AD -- some 300 years prior to the first Crusade -- it was Muslim military forces who crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from North Africa into Spain and in less than a decade crossed the Pyrenees.
In 732 AD , the Muslim forces under the command of Abd-er- rahman, were decisively defeated by Charles Martel and the Franks at the Battle of Poitiers [Tours].
Nine hundred years later, in September 1683 AD -- Ottoman Empire Muslim armies led by the Turkish commander Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha were at the gates of Vienna.
They were defeated by a combination of Austrian, German, and Polish armies.
Second the world needs to understand that Islam was not spread by sandal shod mendicant mullahs preaching from the Koran but by mounted scimitar wielding jihadists. If peace was Mohammed's message -- a subtle proposition at best -- his adherents missed the point then and miss it now.