busting the myth of religious violence

In a recent piece on the ABC Religion and Ethics portal, William Cavanaugh takes on Christopher Hitchens’ infamous claim that religion is necessarily violent. The article really is worth getting stuck into. Here are a couple of nibbles to whet your appetite:

The myth of religious violence helps create a blind spot about secular violence. A sound approach to the study of violence would be resolutely empirical, investigating the conditions under which any kinds of ideologies and institutions produce violence – not just jihad and the sacrificial atonement of Christ, but also the “invisible hand” of the market and the belief that liberalism and secularism are the destiny of the whole world.

What counts as religion and what does not depends on how power is configured in any given society, including our own. The idea that “religion” is susceptible to violence, in ways that “secular” ideologies are not, authorizes certain kinds of power.

Cavanaugh turns Hitchens’ secularist critique on its head — and suggests putting an empirical approach in its place, asking: ‘What particular beliefs — religious or otherwise — have fed violence in which particular circumstances?’

Of course, I’d like to think there’s something even more positive to say for Christian faith. My hunch is that we may be able to make the case that belief in the Crucified and Risen Messiah has the potential to give us the very space secularists long for — namely, a public space for peace and co-existence. In short, that Christian belief may show us how to put tolerance on a new basis.

As I say, it’s just a hunch right now. I’m planning to do some more work on this. So stay tuned — or at least read the article and tell me what you think!

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