Archive for September, 2010

As you have surely been made aware, there is a bunch of silliness going on in my town. International attention is being brought to the fact that the Dove Outreach Center is planning to publicly burn a Holy Quaran on September 11th.  Despite that the folks at Dove are continuously controversial and simply a fringe of fanatics on the far-north side of Gainesville, our town as a whole is being depicted as a hateful place. I’ll be one of the many to go on record saying that this is not the case. There is no real controversy or division in our town, it’s just Dove vs Gainesville.

We are all fearing the worst, though hoping that it will just brush over with out anything crazy happening. I thought I would be safe from terrorist activity in my small progressive town, especially being that most in this town are likely on the side of Iraqi resistance more-so than the U.S. genocidal conquest. But thanks to the media latching onto the loud minority for a rating boost, our town is under threat.

There is much more worth talking about than the normal dialogue that has been taking place the last few weeks. All of this has prompted me to catch up on some long overdue reading on the topic of ‘religious violence.’ Whenever we talk about Dove’s over-zealous tactics, it always ushers in a comment or two about the assumed inevitability that religion breeds violence. Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism have fronted so many wars throughout history that in most people’s minds there is no separating religion and violence. It is certainly undeniable that centuries of tragic wars have taken place in the name of religion, but as someone who is sympathetic to Christianity and who is never satisfied with an over-simplified view of history, the unquestioned blame that is always placed on ‘religion’ has never sat well with me.

I would like to assume that most people are well aware of Jesus’ pacifist tendencies, and a lot of people know that the early church was strictly pacifist for the first three centuries. It was not until the adoption of Christianity by the heavy secular influence of Roman and Greek ideology, and more importantly the hijacking of Christianity as the official state-sanctioned religion that we see a move away from pacifism. Once religion and state were married, church doctrine began to fall into a casual acceptance of violence, manipulating centuries of Christian pacifist doctrine into ‘just war’ ideology, legitimizing the use of violence for means of peace. Yet I would argue that this shift was an influence of the warring Roman state, not the inevitability of religious violence. It was secular appeal to nationalism and xenophobia that drove people to war, then and now. Yet we feel that in our enlightened state of modernity, any of our decisions about going to war, bombing countries, or assassinating leaders are rational, controlled, democratically-driven, and ultimately for peace. It’s those who are drowning in the irrationality of religious conviction that cannot make such a well-thought out decisions about who to kill, and therefore are dangerous. As William Cavanaugh suggests in his article, Sins of Omission: What “Religion and Violence” Arguments Ignore, is that we measure the tendency towards violence in empirical ways:

“Suppose we apply an empirical test to the question of absolutism. “Absolute” is itself a vague term, but in the “religion and violence” arguments it appears to indicate the tendency to take something so seriously that violence results. The most empirically testable definition of “absolute” then, would be “that for which on  is willing to kill.” This test has the advantage of covering behavior, and not simply what one claims to believe. Now let us ask the following two questions: What percentage of Americans who identify as Christians would be willing to kill for their Christian faith? What percentage would be willing to kill for their country? Whether we attempt to answer these questions by survey, or by observing American Christians behavior in wartime, it seems clear that , at least among American Christians, the nation-state- Hobbes’ “mortal god”- is subject to far more absolute fervor that “religion.” For most American Christians even public evangelism is considered to be in poor taste, and yet most endorse organized slaughter on the behalf of the nation  as sometimes necessary and often laudable.”

My point is that it is too easy, too reactionary, and quite unhelpful to put all the blame of state violence on religion. It let’s the state off the hook, and allows the inevitability of state-violence to go unnoticed by forwarding the myth of religious violence. It also ignores that reality that the major religions have valuable tools of peace imbedded deep in their traditions. My hope in writing this is that the debate about all this silliness regarding the Quaran will not keep slipping into an easy excuse to bash religion, but will instead insight a fury in the direction of the U.S. sanctioned genocide of Iraq that has done well to breed violence in my small town.