War is a ritual, a deadly ritual, not the result of aggressive self-assertion, but of self-transcending identification. Without loyalty to tribe, church, flag or ideal, there would be no wars.
Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to one’s tribe, nation, dynasty, church, or political ideology, ad majorem gloriam dei. The emphasis is on unselfish. Excepting a small minority of mercenary or sadistic disposition, wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause. Homicide committed for personal reasons is a statistical rarity in all cultures, including our own. Homicide for unselfish reasons, at the risk of one’s own life, is the dominant phenomenon of history.
One of the most fashionable notions of our times is that social problems like poverty and oppression breed wars. Most wars, however, are started by well-fed people with time on their hands to dream up half-baked ideologies or grandiose ambitions, and to nurse real or imagined grievances.
So, let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all
inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
The idea that religion has a dangerous tendency to promote violence is part of the conventional wisdom of Western societies, and it underlies many of our institutions and policies, from limits on the public role of religion to efforts to promote liberal democracy in the Middle East. William T. Cavanaugh challenges this conventional wisdom by examining how the twin categories of religion and the secular are constructed. A growing body of scholarly work explores how the category ‘religion’ has been constructed in the modern West and in colonial contexts according to specific configurations of political power. Cavanaugh draws on this scholarship to examine how timeless and transcultural categories of ‘religion and ‘the secular’ are used in arguments that religion causes violence. He argues three points: 1) There is no transhistorical and transcultural essence of religion. What counts as religious or secular in any given context is a function of political configurations of power; 2) Such a transhistorical and transcultural concept of religion as non-rational and prone to violence is one of the foundational legitimating myths of Western society; 3) This myth can be and is used to legitimate neo-colonial violence against non-Western others, particularly the Muslim world. ~ Synopsis
Atheists often claim that religion fuels aggressive wars, both because it exacerbates antagonisms between opponents and also because it gives aggressors confidence by making them feel as if they have God on their side. Lots of wars certainly looks as if they are motivated by religion. Just think about conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, the Balkans, the Asian subcontinent, Indonesia, and various parts of Africa. However, none of these wars is exclusively religious. They always involve political, economic, and ethnic disputes as well. That makes it hard to specify how much role, if any, religion itself had in causing any particular war. Defenders of religion argue that religious language is misused to justify what warmongers wanted to do independently of religion. This hypothesis might seem implausible to some, but it is hard to refute, partly because we do not have enough data points, and there is so much variation among wars. In any case, the high number of apparently religious wars at least suggests that secular societies are unlikely to be more prone to murder in war.
This book inaugurates the Resources for Reconciliation series, a joint venture of the publisher and Duke Divinity Schoola’s Center for Reconciliation. The two authors, codirectors of the center, bring perspectives that pair perfectly: Catholic and evangelical Protestant, African and American, academic and practitioner, ordained and lay. Each also brings powerful life experience in confronting oppression and injustice: Katongole grew up under Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and lived near the Rwandan genocide. After growing up a missionary kid in South Korea, Rice worked for 17 years in an urban ministry in Jackson, Miss. Against a background of difference, the two argue for a vision of reconciliation that is neither trendy nor pragmatically diplomatic, neither cheaply inclusive nor heedless of the past. The reconciliation they explain and hold out hope for is distinctively Christian: a God-ordained transformation of the consequences of the fall into the new creation spoken about by the apostle Paul. Deeply theological, this short book needs slow reading by anyone interested in harnessing the power of the spirit for social change. ~ Publishers Weekly
Needless to say, there is a long history of horrible events whose causes are or were almost entirely religious; without faith (i.e. belief without evidence) many of these conflicts may never have happened, or might at least have taken on a less violent form. Examples: Abortion clinic bombings; the American revolution; the Arab/Israeli conflict; the Aum Shinrikyo poisonings; Aztec religious sacrifices; the Branch Davidian conflict in Waco; the Catholic/Protestant conflict; the Heaven’s Gate cult suicide; the Huguenots and the French Wars of Religion; the Inquisition; the Indian/Pakistani conflict; the Ku Klux Klan; the Sunni/Shi’ite conflicts in Iraq, the Tamil/Sinhalese conflict in Sri Lanka; the Thirty Years War; and witch trials.
The next time you experience a blackout, take some solace by looking at the sky. You will not recognize it. Beirut had frequent power shutdowns during the war. Before people bought their own generators, one side of the sky was clear at night, owing to the absence of light pollution. That was the side of town farthest from the combat zone. People deprived of television drove to watch the erupting lights of nighttime battles. They appeared to prefer the risk of being blown up by mortar shells to the boredom of a dull evening.
As war in the Middle East rears its ugly head once again, any person of conscience must wrestle with the question of war. Naturally, on the Web one can find a second front, the war of ideas. At First Things, Richard John Neuhaus’ “Sounds of Religion in a Time of War” is a typically well-considered assessment of the war in Iraq while George Weigel brings the “just war” tradition to bear in “Moral Clarity in a Time of War”. LeaderU features a number of articles in “Warview: Iraq, the US, and World Opinion”. While one could have hoped for wisdom on war from a secular worldview, B. Stephen Matthies at The Secular Web instead offers a critical review of Christian approaches in “Just War Tradition, Pacificism, and Nonviolence” The pacifist position is well represented at Sojourners Magazine and Pax Christi. See “Just? Unjust?” by George Lopez and “Liberation Without War” by Jack Duvall.
But "Christian" war has always been a problem, best solved by avoiding any attempt to reconcile policies of national or imperial militarism with anything Christ said or did. The Christian gospel is a summons to peace, calling for justice beyond anger, mercy beyond justice, forgiveness beyond mercy, love beyond forgiveness. It would require a most agile interpreter to justify hatred and war by means of the Gospels, in which we are bidden to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who despise and persecute us.
From the Crusades’ numerous attempts to cleanse the Holy Land of infidels (anyone who was not a proper Christian), to the Inquisition’s efforts to purge society of heretics (anyone who dissented from Christian dogma), to the Counter Reformation’s push to extirpate reforming Protestants from Catholic lands, to the Holy Wars of the late twentieth century that continue to produce death rolls in the millions, all have been done in the name of God and One True Religion. However, for every one of these grand tragedies there are ten thousand acts of personal kindness and social good that go largely unreported in the history books or on the evening news. Religion, like all social institutions of such historical depth and cultural impact, cannot be reduced to an unambiguous good or evil; shades of gray complexity abound in all such societal structures, and religion should not be treated any differently than, say, political organizations. One could easily build a case that state-sponsored terrorism, revolutions, and wars make even these horrific religion sponsored catastrophes appear mild by comparison. If God is a meme, so is King and President; and if religion is a virus, politics is a full-blown epidemic replete with copy-me memes such as nationalism, jingoism, and outright racism. Yet no memeticist would propose that we do away with the state. Why? Because the state is a complex social entity with countless nuanced beneficent effects that go along with the pernicious.
Intellectuals are inclined to think that they are certified as intellectuals by virtue of their capacity to complexify, and the messiness of history is such that any conflict provides ample opportunities to highlight evidence contrary to the general truth. In the present war and the larger story of which it is part, I continue to believe that America is — on balance and considering the alternatives — a force for good in the world. And I continue to be impressed by how many otherwise sensible people criticize that proposition as an instance of uncritical chauvinism rather than the carefully nuanced moral judgment that it is.
Beginning with the great church father Augustine (354-430 AD.), Christian thinkers have developed criteria for distinguishing justified wars from unjustified wars. What they really tell us is which hard judgments we need to make. First come criteria for when going to war is permissible. It isn’t enough to honor most of them; all seven must be satisfied.
You know the law we live by. And where is it written beyond Camelot live lesser people, people too weak to protect themselves, let them die? Malagant: Other people live by other laws, Arthur. Or is the law of Camelot to rule the entire world. King Arthur: There are laws that enslave men, and laws that set them free. Either what we hold to be right and good and true is right and good and true for all mankind, under God, or we’re just another robber tribe. Malagant: Your words are talking you out of peace and into war. King Arthur: There’s a peace you only find after war. If that battle must come. I will fight it!
The initial relevance of the traditional doctrine [of just war] today lies in its value as the solvent of false dilemmas. Our fragmentized culture seems to be the native soil of this fallacious and dangerous type of thinking. There are,first of all, the two extreme positions, a soft sentimental pacifism and a cynical hard realism. Both of these views, which are also "feelings," are formative factors in the moral climate of the moment. Bot of them are condemned by the traditional doctrine as false and pernicious. The problem is to refute by argument the false antinomy between ware an morality that they assert in common, thought in different ways. The further and more difficult problem is to purify the public climate of the miasma that emanates from each of them and tends to smother the public conscience.
In this spring of 1953 the free world weighs one question above all others: the chance for a just peace for all peoples. To weigh this chance is to summon instantly to mind another recent moment of great decision. It came with that yet more hopeful spring of 1945, bright with the promise of victory and of freedom. The hope of all just men in that moment too was a just and lasting peace. The 8 years that have passed have seen that hope waver, grow dim, and almost die. And the shadow of fear again has darkly lengthened across the world. Today the hope of free men remains stubborn and brave, but it is sternly disciplined by experience. It shuns not only all crude counsel of despair but also the self-deceit of easy illusion. It weighs the chance for peace with sure, clear knowledge of what happened to the vain hope of 1945.
I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere, some in huge piles, sometimes they lay singly or in pairs where they had fallen. It took a little time to get used to seeing men women and children collapse as you walked by them and to restrain oneself from going to their assistance. One had to get used early to the idea that the individual just did not count. One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect. It was, however, not easy to watch a child choking to death from diphtheria when you knew a tracheotomy and nursing would save it, one saw women drowning in their own vomit because they were too weak to turn over, and men eating worms as they clutched a half loaf of bread purely because they had to eat worms to live and now could scarcely tell the difference. Piles of corpses, naked and obscene, with a woman too weak to stand propping herself against them as she cooked the food we had given her over an open fire; men and women crouching down just anywhere in the open relieving themselves of the dysentary which was scouring their bowels, a woman standing stark naked washing herself with some issue soap in water from a tank in which the remains of a child floated. It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrived, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived. This was not at all what we men wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things and I don’t know who asked for lipstick. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.
We, the German Führer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for our two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe. … My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time … Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.
Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle.