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.