Ecumenical Chronicle

The Ecumenical Review, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Ecumenical Chronicle


RELIGION AND VIOLENCE

This message came out of the WCC multi-faith conference at St Petersburg, Florida, USA, 8-12 February 2002, called to address the relationship between religion and violence.

We, members of five religious traditions--Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism--came together with deep concern about the growing violence in the world today. Our own traditions give us our ethical values and offer us a vision of peaceful co-existence predicated upon justice and harmony with the earth. We are conscious of the need to be self-critical and to go beyond a discourse shaped by narrow political, national, economic or military objectives. We endeavour to go beyond religious idealism and explore concrete modes of expression and action.

Faces of violence

In attempting to identify the many faces of violence, we are conscious Of the complexity of the phenomenon and the need to develop deeper understandings of it. Identifying the different faces of violence will help us to discover relevant and effective ways of overcoming them. In accounting for the sources of violence, some of our traditions see it as an integral part of nature, while others locate it in human greed, hatred and ignorance.

The following are some of the faces of violence that we identify:

* Physical violence: warfare, the use of brute force such as battering and domestic abuse, terrorism by individuals, groups or states.

* Political violence: Such as when laws are enacted that militate against the recognition of each person's dignity, worth and equality with another.

* State-sponsored violence: Such as extra judicial killings, torture and detention /incarceration without due legal process.

* Structural violence: Violence that is built into social, political and economic structures such as caste, patriarchy, etc.

* Ecological violence: The destruction of environment resulting from irresponsible use of natural resources.

* Liberative violence: When individuals or groups--as a last resort--seek recourse to violence to respond to the above listed forms of violence and achieve liberation from oppression.

The relation between religion and violence

Religious traditions can be resources for building peace. At the same time, religious communities often play a role in advocating and justifying violence. In the face of structural violence, religious traditions should help us to overcome the lust for power, control and possession of material goods that are the driving impulses of violence and violent systems.

The following are some of the ways in which we characterize the relationship between violence and religion:

* Silence: Religious communities often maintain silence in the face of violence. There are many reasons for such silence, including concern for the survival of their own communities and structures. Some may also see their role helping their adherents feel satisfied in the status quo and in their own material prosperity, without a concern for the marginalized.

* Sanctification: Religious communities justify the use of violence by the state or extra-state entities or by other agencies. Examples of this would be when a religious tradition attaches itself to the militaristic objectives of the state and the textual/canonical legitimization of violence against women.

* Expansion: Some religious communities use violence for purposes of spreading themselves or of ensuring their own growth.

* Images of God: Some religious traditions have violent images of the Divine which may have problematic implications for the self-understanding of their believers. …

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