Religion and Violence

by olgasoutstanding

A few weeks ago, my father handed me a book that I am about to recommend to all of you.  It is called Fields of Blood, and it is so well-written that it reads as easily as a novel.

Its thesis is very simple: religion does not cause conflict.

It has become axiomatic in the Western world that religions cause more conflicts than anything else.  It is true that there is a religious element to many conflicts.  (Lest I be accused of cherry-picking, please note that in each of the four links in the sentence before this one, a different religious group is instigating violence.)  However, to support this thesis, we have to deliberately blind ourselves to the many occasions when conflicts are not religious.  We have to blind ourselves to the atrocities committed in the name of political ideology, racial purity, global economic domination, and empire.  We also have to blind ourselves to wonderful examples of religiously-motivated peacemaking.  Author Karen Armstrong points out, rightly, that secularism and liberal democracy can be absolutist ideologies; that they can make the nation-state the superior value; and that people around the world resent being robbed of their right of self-determination because secularism has been deemed to be the only good way to run a society.   This is true to such an extent that a theocrat can be accused of Islamism, simply because he or she believes that the state should be run on religious principles.

I found myself, about halfway through the book, annoyed at Armstrong, not because she questioned assumptions, but because she did not give a complete analysis of what actually does cause violence.  This is my area of interest and (yes) expertise, and it took me until the end of the book to realize that such an analysis was outside of the scope of her thesis.  That’s the book that I would write, rather than the book that she wrote.

If you believe that most conflict is religious, read this book.  If you believe that nationalism is good in itself, or harmless, read this book.  And if you want to know more about the history of religion and government, read this book.

If you have read this book, I welcome your comments.  Tell me what you thought of it.