Friday, 9 August 2019

Brian A. Victoria - Holy War: Toward a Holistic Understanding

Brian A. Victoria - Holy War: Toward a Holistic Understanding
Send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.
John Donne

Is religion a force for peace or war? Or to borrow a phrase from the title of Christopher Hitchen’s recent book, God Is Not Great, does religion really poison everything, including the possibility of living in a peaceful world? The answer is much like posing the question of whether the glass is half full or half empty. That is to say, for every example cited to prove that religion has supported warfare and violence, other examples can be presented to show ways in which religion has contributed to not only peace and the avoidance of war but to the betterment of humanity and the world. When the question is posed in this way, the debate is as endless as it is futile unless the “winner” is the side that amasses the greatest number of examples.

There is, however, a more fruitful way to address the question, at least for those who, like me, recognize that all of the world’s major religions have, at one time or another, engaged in “holy war,” or more accurately, condoned the organized use of violence against perceived enemies. The question then becomes one of seeking to understand the various factors at work in the world’s major faiths that have led them to condone, justify, or at least tolerate the use of violence. And equally, if not more, important is the question of whether there may be some underlying commonalities in the world’s major faiths that, transcending differences in doctrine and praxis, result in the sacralization of violence, at least under certain circumstances.

Let me stress that the search for such factors or commonalities is not done with the intent of denying the many positive contributions the world’s major religions have made to peace and human well-being. Yet, it is also true that these positive contributions are not the problem that is of so much concern to contemporary society, one reflection of which is the creation of the very journal this article appears in. In other words, it is not the bright side of religion that gives cause for concern but its dark side... read more: