Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Divine Authority and Mass Violence: Economies of Aggression in the Emergence of Religions

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Divine Authority and Mass Violence: Economies of Aggression in the Emergence of Religions

Article excerpt

Abstract: From a social science perspective, a major purpose of religion is to organize the behavior of the community of believers in order to maximize its success as a collective. The underlying premise of this lecture is that religious authority will sanction violence and aggression when they are assessed to be an effective means of realizing the goals of the collective. Conversely, when violence and aggression become unhelpful or counter-productive for realizing community goals they are forbidden. This phenomenology of religion and violence is applied to the history of Judaism, Christianity and Islam to demonstrate that none of these religions is inherently more or less apt to engage in violence. Their use of belligerent and irenic behaviors are more profoundly influenced by historical context and social needs than by theology.

Key words: Just war, holy war, jihad, violence and religion, reward and punishment, divine authority, Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Qur'an, exegesis, Islam, Judaism, Christianity

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

If there is anything that we can call "Western culture," especially as it is manifest in the US, it would include a tremendous emphasis on the importance of the individual. Here are some common slogans that turn up in the discourse that expresses this individualism: "think different," "don't blend in," "do your own thing." This emphasis on the individual sometimes clashes with corporate, or communal responsibility. And when I say corporate responsibility I am not referring to the responsibility of corporate business or companies to the environment or to ethical concerns, but rather, the responsibility of individuals to the larger corporate group, the community.

The question underlying this issue is the extent to which we feel responsible to the larger collective, the degree to which the individual feels responsibility to protect or provide for the larger group.

The way we in the US think about individuality today is different than it was in the past, and it isn't the way that people necessarily construct their worlds in other parts of this planet. Prior to what we call the "modern period," people used to think much more in corporate terms - and again, I don't mean modern business corporations. But the analogy of a business corporation might be helpful in this case because, like modern business corporations, the corporate model was one in which people depended on the pooling of resources. In the pre-modern and non-Western world, the survival and success of the collective was paramount. In non-Western models also today, individuals have rights, but the benefit of the collective often tends to trump the rights of the individual.

And in pre-modern and non-Western corporate systems, religion tended to be a far more collective enterprise than the individual spiritual pursuit that we usually associate with religion here and now in the US.

In the West over the past three centuries or so, we have learned to individualize and internalize religion. Religion is an individual thing: "I believe whatever is in my heart." I can "go shopping" for religion if I'd like. I don't have to stay in the religious community of my parents. I will not stand for religious coercion. The government has no right to tell me where or how to worship, and not even that I have any obligation to worship. These are issues that are highly personal in the West.

Before we go much further, I should clarify that when I use the term, "West," I am referring to a general way of "doing business," a general way of organizing one's understanding of the world. The "West" I'm referring to could exist in LA, Berlin or Bucharest, or in Tokyo, New Delhi, Bangkok or Nairobi.

Outside the geography of what we define very generally as the Western world today, there are others who have similar views to what I'm calling a Western view of religion - considering it critical that religion be separated from politics, for example, that religion is a private, personal issue, and so forth. …

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