Friday, August 9, 2013

I was very glad to read in last week's America Magazine an article by Bill Cavanaugh (CV), a former colleague of John's and mine.  In The Root of Evil, Bill asks the question, "Does religion promote violence?"  This article is drawn from his new book, The Myth of Religious Violence

Here Cavanaugh  deals specifically with the motivation of the Boston Marathon bombers and points out that too often one leaps to the conclusion that the cause lies with the religious values of those who do violence, rather than also focusing on the nationalist tendencies of the person.  

In the west, Cavanaugh argues, our separation between secular concerns and religious concerns, has allowed us to see violence in the service of national interests as reasonable, while religiously motivated violence is irrational.  However, nationalism exhibits so many of the same features as religion that it functions in a similar way.  

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. If it acts like a religion, it is a religion. If people pledge allegiance to a flag, salute it, ritually raise and lower it and are willing to kill and die for it, it does not much matter if they acknowledge it is only a piece of cloth and not a god.
With regard to the question of violence, people kill and die for all sorts of things; there is no good reason to suppose that people are more inclined to kill for a god than for a flag, for a nation, for freedom, for free markets, for the socialist revolution, for access to oil and so on. In certain contexts, ideologies of jihad or the sacrificial atonement of Christ can lend themselves to violence. In other contexts, belief in the free market or in Greater Russia or in the United States as worldwide liberator is what releases killing energies.
Bill also has a podcast on the America site, which is a good supplement to the article.

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