Religion and violence


I have not read Mark Lilla's book The Stillborn God, but a few months ago I critiqued his New York Times article, which was adapted from the book.

I have found a critique of his book that offered this quote:

A first core problem of the book is the very beginning of the story: it buys into the simplistic myth of religious violence and secular peace, resting on the unsubstantiated empirical claim that “religion” (whatever that is) breeds violence whereas institutions of liberal democracy foster peace (current world conflicts in the name of “democracy” not withstanding). Thus Lilla repeats the liberal alarm about religion’s “passion” and “fervor” as the incubator of violence—passions to be curbed by the machinations of Leviathan and, later, the liberal democratic state. But this is a distinction that is untenable for anyone who has ever attended a professional sports event in the United States. It sounds as if Lilla has never witnessed the fervor and passion incited at the opening of a NASCAR race when the dancing colors of the flag are mingled with the iconography of a military fly-over. The opening prayer certainly doesn’t excite the same passions!
It never ceases to amaze me when non-religious people assert that religion is an inherent fomenter of violence. Apparently these people have never heard of religious pacifists like the Berrigan brothers, Martin Luther King, or large number of the world's Quakers, Bretheren, and Mennonites. By the same token, it is equally absurd for religious people to accuse atheism of having an inherent relationship with violence or injustice, as the Pope did in a recent encyclical.


Chris said...

While there clearly isn't any intrinsic relationship, I think we have to admit that faith has very often been such a fomenter. Sports events may excite passions, but people usually won't die for a sports event. For most really religious people, religion is more "real" to them than sports are to most sports fans. And while sports fans certainly get invested in the outcome of their events-- even to the point of spending ten percent of their income-- they generally do not have eternity riding on the bargain. Religion is dangerous not because of an intrinsic relationship between it and violence, but because of its potential to motivate people to behave in extraordinary ways. Of course, this is also what gives it its power to transform society. What separates one result from the other, I suppose, is the content of the religion in question.

By the way, I've linked your blog. It's very interesting. Thanks for all the hard work.

Mystical Seeker said...

Hi Chris. I think you raise a valid point. Religion does have the potential for violence and intolerance. I do think that religion can inspire us to great heights, but it can also inspire people to do terrible things.