Academic journal article Global Governance

Cure or Curse? the Role of Religion in Violent Conflict and Peaceful Governance

Academic journal article Global Governance

Cure or Curse? the Role of Religion in Violent Conflict and Peaceful Governance

Article excerpt

From the Origins of Religion to the Present Impasse

Religions emerged in the dawn of prehistory, as ubiquitous, diverse responses of humankind to the bewildering wonderment of our planet. They celebrated the earth's bounty, the sky's gifts, and their fundamental unpredictability. Cosmotheandry prevailed: the entire cosmos was inhabited by theos, and deemed divine. Everything in the universe, under one's feet and above one's head, was considered sacred. Both "mother" earth and "father" sky were venerated, their cosmic marriage giving birth to the bountiful universe. (1) The inscrutable fertility of women and nature was worshipped. It was unthinkable for our early ancestors to be anthropocentric and believe that all of this marvelous creation was for their species' benefit alone, to be used and disposed at whim. It was self-evident to humans then that their species was but one link in this indivisible chain of life where everything was interconnected, all infinitely different yet seamlessly one.

Living in unbroken union with nature, human beings found innumerable geographically specific ways to venerate and entreat the elements. Uncovering nature's secrets, they reaped its generosity. Hunters blessed their prey before felling them for sustenance; gatherers learned when, where, and how to enrich their diets; nomads deciphered the skies to feed their herds; settlers conjugated water and soil to cultivate crops; humans cooperated with animals to multiply the strength of their limbs. Our ancestors found awe-inspiring names to describe the forces of nature and the indescribable creative energy behind the universe. They whispered stories of creation that became their founding myths. (2)

Hence, the diverse cultures and civilizations of the world were born. Inspired by the unique geography and endowments of each inhabited piece of Earth, the learned devised rituals, replete with wisdom, redolent with symbolism. As cultures evolved alongside ancient religions, communities devised culturally appropriate ways to manage the affairs of humankind. Their societies were not utopias: violent conflicts rose, but so did ingenious rites to prevent violence, resolve conflicts, and reconcile enemies. Such cosmotheandric beliefs and peacemaking traditions continue to prevail among ancient spiritual traditions sheltered from modernization, though they have been largely abandoned by subsequent mainstream religions.

Over time, as humans became less nomadic and more sedentary, less bucolic and more urban, religions too sought refuge in built-up structures: temples, mosques, churches, and synagogues. Earlier, when humans' umbilical cord to Mother Earth was still vibrant and sensate, the wise knew which geographical locations were most replete with electromagnetic energy and connected subterraneously with myriad other spots on the planet. These were deemed sacred and housed sites of worship. This rock might harbor a church, synagogue, or mosque and that cavern, a stupa or temple: all coexisted as different notes in the hymn to the divine. With changing politicoreligious fortunes, mosques or churches were built on ruined synagogues and temples, and vice versa; the wise knew these sites were potent, regardless which form of God was worshipped thereon.

As walls rose to enshrine the deity, differences grew between diverse manifestations, first unwittingly and then deliberately. Demarcation replaced coexistence. Walls not only bonded those within, but also segregated those within from those without. Soon, the material wealth and temporal power encompassed within became worth defending at any price, against outsiders: infidels, heathens, enemies. Competing claims arose to being "the chosen people." Thus the lethal rivalry between and within religions sharpened and spewed blood through subsequent centuries.

Eminent anthropologists and sociologists have proposed empirical theories of religion's origins that eclipse my humble exposition. …

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