Avalos: 'True' religion begats violence
By Hector Avalos
Published: Sunday, September 4, 2011 8:05 AM CDT
Sept. 11, 2001, changed the lives of many people, most importantly those of the victims and their loved ones.
Although I was not affected directly by this tragedy, 9/11 did change my professional life. I had studied the role of religion in violence prior to 9/11, but after that date, I gave much more attention to the issue.
As a result, I published "Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence" in 2005. I have since been asked to contribute articles to "The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence" (2011), and the forthcoming "Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence."
This Sept. 11, I will speak at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., as part of its lecture series on "New Perspectives on Faith for Progressive Christians in the New Millennium." Yes, they know I am an atheist, but they also think an unexamined faith is not worth having. That is also the case with a number of churches in Iowa that have invited me to speak on these issues.
I usually explain there still are two major approaches to viewing the role of religion in violence: One, religion is essentially good, and violence is caused by deviant forms of a religion; and two, religion is inherently prone to violence.
We witness the first approach when we hear Osama bin Laden "hijacked" Islam, and he did not practice the "true" Islam.
Within many Christian communities, we hear Anders Behring Breivik, who confessed to the bombing and shootings in Norway that left at least 77 people dead on July 22, was not a "true" Christian.
It is statistically true the vast majority of Christians and Muslims do not commit violent acts.
However, claiming opponents don't hold the "true" version of Islam, Christianity, or any other religion, simply perpetuates a mechanism that can cause religious violence in the first place.
That is so because when you proclaim there to be a true form of a religion, you also are making heretics out of those who disagree.
So, by declaring bin Laden and Breivik to be heretics, one simply perpetuates this orthodox-heretic model again.
More importantly, such a division ultimately is based on faith claims. Since competing faith claims never can be adjudicated by objective means, then violence often becomes the solution in settling arguments.
Those who hold that religion, especially monotheism, is inherently prone to violence include Regina Schwartz, the author of "The Curse of Cain" (1997).
She argues monotheism is inherently violent because its belief in "one true God" automatically divides the world into those who believe in the true God, and those who don't. Moreover, she argues monotheism is inherently violent because there is only one god who owns and controls the world, and so his followers feel entitled to control the entire planet.
In a planet with rival forms of monotheism and other types of religions, it does not take long before there is a push for supremacy, the American Indians being one major casualty in our own country's history.
Indeed, when people ask me why fewer American Christians are as militant as some Muslims today, I usually respond it is because their work was done in past centuries, when they killed off or "pacified" most of the American Indians and attained Christian supremacy in the Americas.
So most Christians can afford to be peaceful now. But if the remaining Indians ever wanted to fully reclaim their land, culture and religion, you might see Christian militancy re-emerge vigorously.
Although brutally frank, such criticism is mostly welcomed by the churches in which I speak. Those churches realize that self-criticism is a healthy and peaceful way to avoid traps that have caused trouble in the past. For the human species to survive, we must change our way of thinking.
So this Sept. 11, a good self-critical question is simple: Would you rather live in a world where people settle arguments with facts and reason or with faith claims?
Hector Avalos is a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University. He writes monthly for the Ames Tribune.
Who: Hector Avalos, professor, religious studies, Iowa State University
What: 9/11 commemorative lecture on "Religion and Violence: A New Theory for an Old Problem"
When: 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 6
Where: South Ballroom, Memorial Union, Iowa State University
[Edited by PRev1: To Close HTML Tag for Link from Title.]
[-- Avalos: 'True' religion begats violence