Thursday, September 27, 2012

Book: The Myth of Religious Violence

I just heard a great talk on the myth of religious violence by William Cavanaugh. In his talk, Cavanaugh had intriguing and fresh takedowns of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, both of whom have written extensively on the maddening numbers of people killed in the name of religion and for their own personal disgust at the idea of believing in a God or following a religion. 

Cavanaugh's argument is that religion means many different things to many different people and Hitchens and Harris choose selectively between what they deem a religious movement and what they label a secular movement. Essentially, their use of the terms boils down to what they truly like and don't like. Both of the authors, and many who have written in the same vein, like to reference the millions of people who have been killed throughout human history in the name of religion. In response to this, Cavanaugh rightly points out that until the modern era there was no separation of religion and politics. The thought of religion separate from politics was as foreign as the idea of religious freedom and free speech to the crowds rioting in the Middle East over the past two weeks. Every war prior to the modern era could be said to be a form or religious violence, because even following your Caesar (who was considered a god) into war was a religious action. Then, even fighting for the atheistic Lenin regime was, in this sense, a religio-political action. 

Cavanaugh shared a number of great quotes, but I wrote one down from St. Augustine on the idea of religion, "We have no right to affirm with confidence that religion (religio) is confined to the worship of God, since it seems that this word has been detached from its normal meaning, in which it refers to an attitude of respect in relations between a man and his neighbor."

Cavanaugh's talk was based on his book of the same name, The Myth of Religious Violence. Check it out at the library or buy it. As a believer in and follower of Christ, it was extremely refreshing to hear an articulate, academic rebuttal of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris that is appreciative of religion and doesn't speak of it as the underlying motivator for all conflicts from the present day to the beginning of human history. Thank you, Professor Cavanaugh. 

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