Religion And Violence
Religion can be a transformative
force toward peace as well as war.
(R. Scott Appleby, The Ambivalence of the Sacred: Religion, Violence, and Reconciliation, Rowan & Littlefield, 2000)
Religion is the most dangerous energy
source known to mankind. The moment a
person (or government or religion or
organization) is convinced that God is
either ordering or sanctioning a cause or
project, anything goes. The history,
worldwide, of religion-fueled hate, killing,
and oppression is staggering.
Eugene Peterson, The Message (from the introduction to the book of Amos).
Reflections from:Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God, Why Religious Militants Kill (Harper Collins,2003).
The religious terrorist’s moral error is partly his
impatience (his zealotry).
Taking the law into their own hands; not waiting for
the institutions of society to deal with the perceived injustices.
Common tendencies among terrorists:
To focus on a single value to the exclusion of others; To use morally unacceptable means to address
genuine grievances or achieve defensible goals;
Philosophers traditionally identify three
kinds of evil:
Moral evil – suffering caused by the deliberate
imposition of pain on sentient beings;
Natural evil – suffering caused by natural
processes such as disease or natural disaster;
Metaphysical evil – suffering caused by
imperfections in the cosmos or by chance, such as a murderer going unpunished as a result of random imperfections in the court system. (Stern, xxiii)
The use of the word
to describe such
disparate phenomena is a remnant of
pre-Enlightenment thinking, which viewed
suffering (natural and metaphysical evil)
as punishment for sin (moral evil). (Stern,
Religion has two sides – one that is spiritual
and universalist, and the other particularist and sectarian. We should not turn away from this dangerous aspect of religion in an attempt to remain uncontaminated. We must recognize the seductiveness of sectarianism to understand the extent of the danger.
Religious terrorism attempts to destroy moral
Religious terrorists’ commitment to a religious idea or a religious group leads them to dehumanize their adversaries to a degree that they become capable of murder.
They start out with the intention to purify the
world of some evil, but end up committing evil acts.
What is so deeply painful about terrorism is
that our enemies, whom we see as evil, view themselves as saints and martyrs.
Writing this book has helped me to
understand that religion is a kind of
technology. It is terribly seductive in its
ability to soothe and explain, but it is also
dangerous. Convents such as the one I
visited as a child may make good people
better, but they don’t necessarily make
bad people good. They might even make
bad people worse. (xxvii)
Although we see them as evil, religious
terrorists know themselves to be perfectly
good. To be crystal clear about one’s
identity, to know that one’s group is
superior to all others, to make purity one’s
motto, and purification of the world one’s
life work – this is a kind of bliss. This is
the bliss offered to those who join
religious terrorist groups.
Participants in the Crusades, the
Inquisition, and the kamikaze
suicide-bombings raids all understood the appeal
of purifying the world through murder. It
is a bliss I have seen among the terrorists
described in this book. The powerful
yearning for bliss cannot be denied if we
are to fight terror in the name of God, the
gravest danger we face today.(Stern, xxviii-xxix)
Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God, Why
Religious Militants Kill(Harper Collins,2003)
Inspirational Leaders and Their Followers Lone-Wolf Avengers
Commanders and Their Cadres
The Ultimate Organizations: Networks, Franchises, and
Conditions in which Religion
The group in question conceives of itself
not as attacking but as defending.
It represents a culture or idea which is itself
All other avenues of protest or
self-protection seem to be closed.
The group feels on the edge of calamity.
In their despair, the group finds hope and consolation in the promise of religious victory.
God is on their side; they cannot lose.
This provides an eschatological dimension for their
cause. They are only a small part of the battle between good and evil and God (their cause) will eventually win.
The group of activists, often few in number, is
supported by a wider circle of believers who see the world similarly.
John Hull, “Religion and Terror in the Modern World.” www.johnmhull.biz/Religion&Terror.htm
Religious violence is not limited to but
seems to be more prominent in
Some even argue that violence is inherent
within religion, especially Monotheism.
In the OT there is a tension between the
justice of God and his punishment of sin
and his love and grace.
As human beings we struggle to keep the
tension between these two aspects of God in
a healthy balance.
Especially is this true in a world that is so
diversified and different from what it was
intended to be (a fallen world).
Our struggle is to know how to apply God’s
love and grace in a fallen world.
[Christianity’s] early history was
characterized by a fairly strict form of
pacifism. That approach slowly gave way
to an acceptance of violence in defense of
the innocent. And sadly, some Christian
leaders eventually came to advocate force
against heretics and infidels, and even
total war in the interest of defending and
expanding the faith.
Roland Bainton, Christian Attitudes toward War and Peace. Abingdon Press, 1960. [Cited by David L. Perry, “Killing in the Name of God: The Problem of Holy War.”]
… religious violence can take on a
particularly intense and ruthless character,
if the objects of that violence are seen as
blaspheming or insulting God, as the
enemies of God or God’s way narrowly
David L. Perry, “Killing in the Name of God: The Problem of Holy War.”]
Religions Ranked by Propensity toward Violence
http://www.roadtopeace.org/resources/great_religions/religion_and_violence.htm Internet reports of or articles about the use of violence within these religions.
0.053 225 12 Confucianism 0.061 900 55 Hinduism 0.16 850 135 Atheism 0.43 23 10 Sikhism 0.89 360 319 Buddhism 1.02 2000 2044 Christianity 12.81 1300 16653 Islam 18.21 14 255 Judaism Events / Million Adherents Millions Events Religion
Monotheism Compared With Eastern Religions http://www.roadtopeace.org/resources/great_religions/religion_and_violence.htm 0.16 850 135 Atheism 0.26 1508 396 Eastern Religions 5.7 3314 18952 Monotheism Events / Million Adherents Millions Events Belief System
Religion and Atheism Rank For Violence
Normalizing the rank order to Atheism = 1. Shows monotheism to be multiples more violent than atheism.
Religion and Atheism Rank For Violence
1.0 Atheism 1.62 Eastern Religions 35.6 Monotheism Events / Million Belief System
Stages of TerrorismMark Juergensmeyer
A world gone awry.
The process begins with real problems
Israeli occupation of Palestine; corruption of
governments; US military presence in Mid. East
Most people are able to cope with such
Some rebel politically and culturally.
A few take these situation with ultimate gravity and
perceive them as symptoms of a world gone badly awry.
The foreclosure of ordinary options.
Most join in political or social campaigns to
Even if changes are not made, they persist
with the expectation that eventually changes can be made through ordinary means.
The few who are part of cultures of violence
see no possibility of improvement through ordinary channels.
The frustration is seen as the potential for
personal failure and a meaningless existence.
Satanization and cosmic war.
For those in despair and hopelessness,
religion provides a solution: cosmic war.
Opponents are satanized and regarded as
“forces of evil.”
The world begins to make more sense.
They now know who has been behind their
humiliation and dismal situation.
Hope now exists because God is with them
and they will win, even against tremendous odds.
Symbolic acts of power.
Performance of acts that display symbolically
the depth of the struggle and the power they think they have.
Private rallies, public demonstrations, newsletters,
books, flaunting weapons, developing communication systems, creating alternative governments with courts and cabinets, etc.
More dramatic and desperate situations sometimes
result in violent acts – terrorism – either isolated acts or part of a protracted state of guerrilla war. (Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, The Global Rise of
Religious Violence, 3rded. Rev. University of California Press, 2003, p. 188.)
Why Religions Sometimes Promote
Hatred, Animosity, and Intolerance
"My son, always respect and honor the
other fellow's point of view. Unless it's
different from yours, of course."
Hagar, in the Hagar comic strip for 1999-MAR-3:
The earth is flat, and anyone who
disputes this claim is an atheist who
deserves to be punished.
Sheik Abdel-Aziz Ibn Baaz, Supreme religious authority, Saudi Arabia and author of a Muslim religious edict, 1993:
Religion generates strong personal
commitment and passion
Expressed as: caring, love, respect, support
Motivates people to dedicate their lives to
Can also motivate people to reject and hate
others – can escalate into actions of oppression or worse
Several factors contribute to the hatred
Us vs. them phenomenon
Linking religion and nationalism
Fear of the other
They alone have the complete truth
All others are in various degrees of error
Their group represents God on Earth
Us vs. Them phenomenon
All major religions teach an Ethic of
Reciprocity (the golden rule)
Many people limit the application to their fellow
Based on a dualistic perspective of the world
Linking religion and nationalism
Many people closely link their religion with
"No, I don't know that Atheists should be
considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." (George H.W. Bush: (R) as Presidential candidate on 1987-AUG-27)
The responsibility of one person or small
group can be transferred to all people in the same race, religion, gender, etc.
Responsibility across generations
An entire group is held responsible for an event
that happened generations ago (hundreds or even thousands years ago)
Fear of the other
We are conditioned to be cautious toward
people who are different from ourselves.
Feeling uncomfortable toward those other
people is a natural extension of this fear.