Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Religion Is Violent

Yesterday, religious extremists killed a dozen people in Paris. These zealots felt they were defending the honor of their religion from, perceived, blasphemers.

So today there is a lot of talk from religion’s defenders and critics. Defenders like Reza Aslan will try to distance what happened in his religion’s name from the “peaceful” religion in which he takes part – anyone who doesn’t see the difference, in his view, simply does not know the meaning of the word nuance.

I understand his argument, and I know the frustration of being lumped in with a group you feel does not represent your view. However, ultimately his argument rings hollow for me because he is defending the indefensible. Religion is violent.

There is no religion of peace. There are peaceful people who choose to bypass the violence dictated in their religion. I know peaceful people who belong to peaceful churches... but they do so by ignoring/sidelining/mythologizing the edicts in their holy books.

I believe Reza Aslan when he says that he is both peaceful and religious; but I also believe he maintains that position by choosing to select which aspects of his religion he will deem valuable.

The religion I grew up with commanded that women who were found not to be virgins on their wedding night were to be dragged to their father’s door step and stoned there. In fact, we had many offences listed in our holy book which required us to stone people to death. However, we never did it. In fact, most congregants were ignorant that those edicts were even in our holy text. I once spoke with a pastor who was surprised to find out that his church’s belief statements contained a line which condemned everyone not of their faith to Hell. Often, what the believer believes, and what the religion teaches, are two different things.

Holy texts are drenched with blood. They are filled with commands to kill the outsider and the infidel. They encourage rape, slavery, misogyny, and a host of terrors that can never be categorized under the heading of peace. Yet, through generations of self-talk, selective editing, and avoidance, we have made it common to equate religion with peace… and it simply isn’t true.

Humanity, with its bent toward empathy and compassion, is slowly untying the knot and shedding all that is violent and inhumane in these religious texts.

Until the day when we can shed them once and for all.


Jon Eastgate said...

Hi Andrew, I see where you're going with this. The logical end to this is John Lennon's hope - "Imagine all the people living life in peace". It's a good aspiration but I don't hold out any hope that a religionless world (if such was possible) will be more peaceful than one filled with religion. We have plenty of examples of secular ideologies that are every bit as violent and ruthless as radical Islam or militant Christianity.

I also wonder about the selectivity argument. I agree that we filter out the violent texts in our religions. I know I do. I make a conscious choice for an interpretation of faith that doesn't require me to stone adulterers. But you are presenting the opposite, arguing for (or against) an interpretation of faith that screens out Jesus saying "turn the other cheek" and forgive your brother seventy X seven times. Because no religion has an inerrant scripture free from internal contradictions, there's no way to have faith without making these choices. And if you reject faith you still have to make the choice, you just don't have to relate it to religious precepts.

Andrew said...

Hi Jon! Good to "see" you!

I guess it determines what one means in "arguing against". If all religion just held to the good, there would probably be little to complain about. If I am selective, it is because I do not see any of these texts as holy... so therefore, I do not see a lot of value in a book where I have to dig through horror to find a gem.... knowing that such validation of the book itself lends power for those who are drawn to the horror.

One can find "turn the other cheek" messages from many authors, without being nested in negativity and violence. I think Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Teachings on Love" can at least equal the bible when it comes to loving others, and it does so free of having to choose to ignore the bad bits.

I think the morals of modern people are superior to those of ancient time... we have the advantage of perspective. Why put their words at the fulcrum of our growth edge? I don't see secularism as inherently superior, but I think we could make better progress if we sought out more credible voices.

Jon Eastgate said...

Nice to be here - I've had a really busy 6 months so not much time for reading blogs but hey, it's January which is summer holidays here.

"The morals of modern people are superior to those of ancient time" is an interesting statement. We are rapidly trashing the planet and thousands of children die each day of preventable illnesses, not to mention wars waged by people of all and no faiths.

I've been thinking lately that modern Western people (Christian or not) worship at the altar of Progress and this faith requires child sacrifice - some children right now and also the sacrifice of our own children as we prioritise present wealth over sustainability. It's a gloomy thought but the evidence is mounting that that's what we're doing and there doesn't seem to be much collective momentum to change it.

Andrew said...

I don't see our present moral code as having arrived. I have no doubt that 200 years from now, people will look at us a bit as moral idiots on the issues you raise. However, the moral issues you raise are relatively new in the human experience.

As we look at some of the middle eastern practices of public flogging, beheadings, imprisonment and torture for going against the religion... we have to remember that this is the tone much of the bible was written in... as I do not look to Middle Eastern countries to be on the moral edge of civil advancement, so do I not look to the bible.

And we have advanced morally. Just in my lifetime. Sexism, racism, and violence that were normal 50 years ago is completely unthinkable now.

The stats say we are getting better all the time... now we just need to see if our environmental morality will evolve quick enough to keep us from wiping ourselves out. :)

Daniel Mower said...

Religion is violent in other ways, in that it creates an environment where people who don't fit in with the group (i.e. Homosexuals, doubters, etc.), do harm to themselves. This happens frequently and more especially when religions make absolute truth claims that put an individual (for the mere fact of existing) at odds with the religion's doctrine and their definition of god.

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