Reflections By Dan Clendenin
Week of Monday, February 3, 2003
One of the most disheartening and perplexing admissions that a sincere person of any faith must make is that despite all the good it has done, religion has caused enormous evil in our world. Here are six examples with representative perpetrators and victims:
It is important to make at least four distinctions. First, we should judge religions by their most authentic examples rather than by their worst corruptions. Islam, for example, flourished from Spain to India and led the world in almost every area of human culture until the sixteenth century and later. Or again, Gandhi represents Hindus better than their fanatics in Kashmir. Second, we should beware of glaring generalizations. Many overstate the connection between religion and violence, as when Charles Kimball writes that “more evil [has been] perpetrated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history.”4 When I was in Croatia, I could find very few people who understood the war in former Yugoslavia as a religious war; most everyone I spoke to saw it as a land grab by Milosevic (who no doubt exploited religious passions as a political tool). Similarly, some like Rosemary Ruether make the sweeping generalization that Christianity has perpetrated more evil than other religions. Third, at the other extreme, some people deny or ignore the connection between religion and violence. Osama bin Laden punctured the bliss of such an illusion. Finally, there is a difference between evil committed by people who happen to be religious, and evil promoted in the name of religion. However heinous, the Catholic clergy charged with sexual abuses did not justify their actions with religion. Sometimes the connection between religion and violence is tenuous, sometimes it is explicit. It is almost always complex and bound up with other causes (social, historical, economic, cultural, political, etc), but at the end of the day we must admit that there is far too much violence in the world that is fomented with a specifically religious rationale, motivation, or justification.
Why and how people commit violence and evil in the name of religion might seem inexplicable. At a minimum we should not remain silent when we see religious violence but rather name it for what it is. We can all learn and reflect upon some of the signs that religion has become evil and evil religious:
The Old Testament is full of violence, much of it divinely sanctioned, at least according to the writers. In the New Testament, I can think of only two examples when the followers of Jesus wanted to use violent means for His cause—when James and John wanted to call down fire upon the Samaritans, and in the Garden of Gethsemane when his disciples tried to prevent His arrest. In both instances Jesus rebuked those who tried to show their allegiance to him through violent means. Rather, He told us to love even our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us, because in the end, according to Jesus, the ultimate measure of my love for God is my love for my neighbor.
The Journey with Jesus: Notes to Myself Copyright ©2003 by Dan Clendenin. All Rights Reserved.
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