Religion: Way of War or Path to Peace?

By Clarke, Sathianathan "Sathi"; Vollebak, Ambassador Knut et al. | The Ecumenical Review, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Religion: Way of War or Path to Peace?


Clarke, Sathianathan "Sathi", Vollebak, Ambassador Knut, Agoy, Berit Hagen, Elsanousi, Mohamed, The Ecumenical Review


From Paris to Pakistan, Orlando to Myanmar, Iraq to Nigeria, conflict and violence is perpetrated in the name of religion or committed against persons because of their religious identity. How can we understand and address that lethal combination, whether in religiously inspired violence, violence against religious persons, or violence among religious groups? Addressing these questions, a plenary session of the World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee meeting in June 2016 in Trondheim, Norway, addressed issues relating to geopolitical, inter-religious, and theological aspects of religion and violence. A statement on Religion and Violence subsequently issued by the central committee in Trondheim (found in The Ecumenical Review, November 2016) designated "peace-building in the context of religion and violence" as the special thematic focus for the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace in 2017. Below we document several of the contributions on "religion and violence" at the Trondheim meeting. Dr Sathianathan Clarke of the Church of South India, professor of theology, culture and mission at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, DC; Ambassador Knut Vollebak, former Foreign Minister of Norway and a member of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs; Berit Hagen Agoy, general secretary of the Council on Ecumenical and International Relations of the Church of Norway; and Dr Mohamed Elsanousi of the Islamic Society of North America and Finn ChurchAid.

Religious Sources of Violence: Three Theological Motifs Propelling 21st-century Violent Religious Fundamentalisms

The 21st century has brought religion back onto the global stage. But not all of this turn to religion has been good news. The gods seem to be back in the public square with a vengeance. At least their devout agents are turning fear of God into terror for the world. There appears a tight pact between such demanding divine beings and their passionate human representatives. Or it may be the other way around. Violent contracts for war are drawn up by wilful human representatives without consulting their unwilling and likely misrepresented divine lords.

The connection between religion and violence is not new for those who look back through history. But the magnitude and intensity of violence that religions are associated with is already seriously affecting our common wellbeing. Religious fundamentalisms or religious extremisms are operating dangerously across key global locations, maturing into an assortment of violent local expressions. Let's admit it: Violence rather than peace has become the face of religions today. Violence in the name of God may not be God's intention or doing. Yet its curse surrounds us, and we who know and serve God have to do something about confronting its propensity for destruction and curtailing its promotion of death.

In this presentation, extracting from a four-year study of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu fundamentalist movements in the United States, Egypt, and India respectively, I identify three motifs of religious fundamentalism that fuel spectacular and expansive violence. I do this in the conviction that acknowledging religion as a significant contributor to violence commits us to harnessing its capacities for peace.

Secularist and modernist frameworks overlook religion when interpreting the violence emanating from religious fundamentalisms. Such reductionist theories focus on cultural clashes, political will-to-power, economic grievances, and psychological maladjustments. Perhaps its pundits do not understand religion, but more likely they propagate "only-the-secular-is-real" groupthink to marginalize the role of religion. Such a passing over of religion also prevents us from exposing the shadowy side of faith traditions, even as it neutralizes the agency of religious practitioners. Ironically, acknowledging the destructive power of religion also evokes moral suasion among the religiously faithful to become part of a solution to contain and cure the devastation perpetuated in the name of religions. …

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