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Saturday, 13 August 2011

Violence, religion and the modern state

What was interesting about the media reporting of the massacre in Norway was that the religious identity of supposed perpetrators emerged in the reporting right from the start. If it was not Islamic terrorists that were responsible as first thought, the attention turned to the "fundamentalist Christian".

The political theologian William Cavanaugh has some helpful comments on this tendency. In his review of Charles Kimball's book When Religion Becomes Evil. Kimball, he observes ... wants to proscribe religious justifications of vilence because he belives that religion, with its absolutist tendencies is prone to fan the flames of violence.
... The problem is that there remain in Kimball's view, perfectly legitimate non-religious, or "secular" ways of justifying violence. Far from a condemnation of violence, Kimball's analysis results in a selective condemnation of certain kinds of violence, labelled "religion". the problem is not violence as such; there are still occasionally good reasons for bombing or shooting people. To qualify as good these reasons must be "secular".  "Secular" violence. however regrettable, is sometime necessary. "Religious" violence is always reprehensible.  (p45 )“Sins of Omission: What ‘Religion and Violence’ Arguments Ignore.” The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture 6:1 (Spring 2004): 34–50.
The conclusion Cavanaugh draws that is relevant to the issue of considering the way we talk about the massacre in Norway, by an individual, or the current activities of the Syrian army, to quote an example at random, is that if we really want to address the problem of violence in the modern world, we must treat violence as the problem, whoever is responsible for it.An adequate approach to the probem he argues,
... would be to be resolutely empirical: under what conditions do certain beliefs and practices, jihad, the invisible hand of the market, the sacrificial atonement of Christ, the  role of the United States as a world wide liberator turn violent. The point is not simply that "secular" violence should be given equal time with "religious" violence. The point is that the distinction between "secular' and "religious" violence is unhelpful, misleading and mystifying and should be avoided altogether. (p50)

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