December 16, 2008
There is a dark side to God and faith. When we acknowledge that we are faced with questions that are hard to fathom and and even harder to answer. We want to ignore them, or pretend the issues aren’t there. Religious wars aren’t new. Death imposed- murder- welcomed in the name of God isn’t a new phenomena.
There is an important reality that needs clarification. There is no such thing as religious violence. There is only violence committed in the name of religion. We will discuss that later.
Notwithstanding the violence and admonitions to violence in the Bible there is one inescapable truth: God did not create man and this world so that we might destroy each other and ourselves.
That means that biblical admonitions to violence must be viewed in context and not in a vacuum. In stark opposition to biblical violence are those ideals and standards that compromise the guideposts to which we strive. The bible is clear- violence is a small part of the reality our lives. By contrast, the bible is the guidebook to day to day living with each other. We are to help each other, nourish each other and support each other. If we accept that our mission on this earth is not to destroy each other, then we must accept as truth that the principal part of our lives is to be spent living in peace and harmony. We are all connected, each of us. The accumulation of our contributions are what define us as a community. Those that do not contribute, exclude themselves from that community, of course- and that weakens the community in general. It is our collective mission to bring light into this world, not darkness.
This of course, in antithetical to notions of Jihad and Crusade. Implicit in those provocative words is the reality that in the past those words were also defined as violence committed in the name of religion- and the ensuing forced conversions.
Christianity has learned the lesson. There are no offensive wars fought for in the name of God. It is true that Christian and other nations are at war- but they do not fight for a specific religion. We, and they, fight for the truth that all men are free and deserve to be free. We fight for the human dignity that God has bestowed on each of us. At times, we struggle mightily against our adversaries, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. At other times we do not fight hard enough, as in Darfur.
The wars we fight are not just inequities. They are an impediment to our progress, that part of us that strives to “beat our swords into plowshares.” The unabashed and frenzied bigotry belie any lessons we have learned. “Am I my brothers keeper?” is drowned out in cacophony of visceral hatred. There are no brothers, to some. We are kept from our growth, spiritual and moral, by the hate.
Mankind is supposed to progress- it is the natural way. We are supposed to learn from our past. Most of us do, some don’t. For example, it should be inconceivable that the history of the latter half of the 20th century would repeat itself- yet clearly, there are those, who in the name of religion, issue clarion calls to destroy and to hate. More disturbing is that there are people responding to those calls to hate.
It is in this context that we can understand the biblical call to violence. We are not called to violence in vacuum, but rather, in context. If we do not respond to that call then we fail not just God, but more importantly ourselves, our community and our future. We are called to rid the world of evil so that we- and good, might thrive even further. We are never called to violence to promote false religious or political agendas. Those who promote false religious or political agendas try to do so by co-opting God. They claim to speak for God, as if God could not speak for himself, as if those deceivers could reinterpret God’s words.
As we noted earlier, Justice is not a simple matter.
Even when it God that dispenses that Justice and decrees that life or liberty need be taken, Justice is dispensed somberly and without joy. Indeed, there is even sorrow.
We know that even when fighting for what is right, there is sorrow in the Heavens. Violence is never without cost- even when prescribed by God. Why? Because that violence is antithetical to our purpose- and if we have put ourselves in a situation in which we must engage in violence, we will be called to task. David, was precluded by God from building the Temple because he ‘had blood on his hands.’ Even the legacy of David, the Psalmist, could not trump the legacy of David the warrior. Instead, the task of building the House of God fell upon his son, Solomon.
Despite the violence and evil, we are capable of the highest of human ideals- mercy, forgiveness and love. In a history replete with wars, mankind still produced art. With a history of so much hate, much of manikind still strives for idealistic causes. That is our legacy- and that is our natural state.
We have often said that cultures and religions are measured by what they contribute and not by what they destroy.
Our adversaries, by deeds, actions and their own admission, have destroyed much and make clear their desire to destroy even more. They wish to upend the truth that we are not meant to destroy each other. We do not go to war easily. Indeed, we wish peace with our neighbors. peace by definition, means equality, a live and let live culture. Our adversaries want peace based on our capitulation to an evil that destroys and hates.
That is an evil we must fight. It is from that darkness that light emerges.
Portions of this post have been previously published.