This is part 3 of my blog series based on the lecture of Dr. Martin Marty. His lecture was titled, “Religion and Violence and the global searches for peace.” He gave this lecture at Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana. Part 1 was called, “Why talk about it?”. Part 2 was called, “What is religious violence?”
There are certain years that just hold a certain amount of power. People recognize them as turning points. American history has a few, like 1492, 1776, 1849, 1865, 1929, 1941, and 1963 (in order, Columbus landing in the “new” world, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the California gold rush, the end of the Civil War, the stock market crash, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the assassination of JFK). On lists like this, few outside of Pittsburgh would include 1979 (the Pirates win the World Series to the soundtrack of “We Are Family).
Yet one event in 1979 began a new era of religion and violence. After decades of feeling as if the last war to be waged was the one against godless Communism, America was introduced to a new enemy that had their very own god.
The Iranian Revolution sent shockwaves across the world. Until 1979, there was a general concept in society that, by and large, religion was becoming less and less important. This was actually seen as a trend since the Enlightenment. When science and logic ushered in the modern era, most thinkers believed that religion – and all the violence that came with it – was going to slowly die. The theory of secularization was that society would grow in secularization, and religious fervor and phanaticism would lose its influence.
The Iranian revolution proved the theory of secularization wrong. In fact, it proved that the exact opposite was actually taking place. While secularization coninued through much of the world, the result was not the deadening of the extremes, but a push toward the extremes. Secularization took people out of the middle-of-the-road religion. Mainstream churches started to die, moderation became a sign of weakness.
At the same time, the extremes started to close rank. They drew their lines, and more clearly defined themselves. Taking up the name “Fundamentalists,” they made lists of what is the right way of believing and acting, and anyone outside these definitions were deemed “non-believers,” or “heathen,” or “infidels.” This was not unique to any one religion. Fundamentalism took hold in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism.
So instead of dulling the edges, secularization actually sharpened them. This created a turbulent environment across the world. In the United States, this battle was fought largely in the 1960s during battles over race and sexuality. While some would argue that the Civil Rights Movement and the sexual revolution had nothing to do with Religion, I would beg to differ. Both of these issues were deeply rooted in religion, the image of God, interpretation of the Bible, a sense of the holy, and the nature of humankind.
In Iran, it culminated in the rise of Islamic fascism. The revolution showed that religious phanatacism was, in fact, an important aspect of geo-politics and national security.
According to Marty, most experts in national security in the 60s and 70s were interested in Communismand the nuclear arms race. Religious skirmishes in places like Ireland, Bosnia, and even the Middle East, were seen as regional affairs that had little affect on United States national security. According to Dr. Marty, 1979 was the year that the CIA “got religion.”