Last week I went to a lecture by Dr. Martin Marty. Marty is a church historian and vital social commentator. His column in The Christian Century has been a treasured resource for thousands of clergy and lay people. His lecture was entitled “Religion, Violence, and the Global Searches for Peace.”
This is going to be my first post (I’m not sure how many more I’ll do) about the lecture. I want to blog about the lecture because I believe it is such an important topic. I want to do a series of posts because the lecture was so rich with information.
Why is talking about religion and violence so important?
1. Old theories have been proven wrong. An important part of modern thought was the idea of secularization. There was a theory that people and societies were getting gradually less and less religious, and during that process, the fringe radical elements would grow duller. The belief was that as science and logic was able to explain more of the mysteries that religion had explained, religion would just slowly fade away. While this to a large part happened in Europe, much of the rest of the world did not follow the pattern of secularization.
According to Marty, the 1979 Iranian revolution was the first sign that instead of the dulling of religious fundamentalism that was predicted, there has been a sharpening. The attacks of September 11 showed that America was not immune to this increased radicalism.
Religious violence is nothing new. Just ask any neo-atheist or look in any newspaper. You are going to find evidence of violence perpetrated in the name of God. What is apparant now, however, is that the long pattern of religous violence that is a part of our world is proceeding along a similar line as opposed to slowly fading away as predicted.
2. It is much more dangerous. Again, religious violence is nothing new, but for most of human history, if two opposing religious people wanted to kill each other over their land, food, ports, god, ideas, money, oil, etc., they would simply kill each other. The rest of the world could easily turn a blind eye. Likewise, if an individual felt “called by God” to harm people in any way, that individual was very limited as to the effect he could have. Not so any more.
With the advent of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts can have global ramifcations. And the impetus of a few radical individuals can harm thousands.
At the same time, mass media and communications have shrunk the world in such a way that all the violence can be broadcast around the world within seconds. Violence in the farthest corner of the world can strike fear into the hearts of billions. It can also inspire other likeminded religious radicals.
These reaons, among others, are why it is so important to talk about religous violence now. The only way we can even begin to work for peace is to understand the state in which we live.