Religion And Violence






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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)

Alienation Humiliation


History Territory

Inspirational Leaders and Their Followers Lone-Wolf Avengers

Commanders and Their Cadres

The Ultimate Organizations: Networks, Franchises, and


Conditions in which Religion

Becomes Terroristic

The group in question conceives of itself

not as attacking but as defending.

It represents a culture or idea which is itself

being threatened.

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.”

Religious violence is not limited to but

seems to be more prominent in

Monotheistic religions.

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 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 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 Terrorism

Mark 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

make changes.

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

for others

Motivates people to dedicate their lives to

helping others

Can also motivate people to reject and hate

others – can escalate into actions of oppression or worse

Several factors contribute to the hatred

and intolerance

Truth claims

Us vs. them phenomenon

Linking religion and nationalism

Collective responsibility

Fear of the other

Truth claims

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

believers only

Based on a dualistic perspective of the world


Linking religion and nationalism

Many people closely link their religion with

their nationality

"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)

Collective responsibility

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.





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