Sunday, August 22, 2010

Religious Violence

Christian girl burned during nationalist Hindu Orissa violence in 2008
Members of every religion have from time to time engaged in acts of violence. The religious literature of the world is remarkably candid about this. Yet when someone claims to be motivated by a religious view to act violently, we moderns tend to rush in with the 'the religion is not violent; this is a distortion of its meaning' defense. This defense, however well intended, misunderstands the power of religions to shape human life. The other modern voice, that religions should be banished or will wither in due course, misunderstands this power in equal, or greater, measure.

Religions are here to stay, for they articulate the deepest sensibilities of individuals and groups. Our task is not to seek the elimination of religion, nor to prepare for a world without it. Our task is to shape religions so as to minimize violence in the long run. This less lofty version of engaging religions may not satisfy our sense of sanctimony, but it more adequately grapples with our affinity with the brutes. We are more akin to the chimpanzee than angels dancing on the head of a pin.

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