Matt Rowley examines what causes religious violence and his suggestion for the future of religion in our society.
To the shock and anger of many, President Obama had a few words to share at the National Prayer Breakfast in February.
He encouraged others not to “get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place.” He spoke briefly on the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and Jim Crow, and how these were all justified “in the name of Christ.”
His sentiments fall on angry ears just after ISIS had murdered a Jordan pilot by burning him alive.
Though many refuse to face the music (and history books), it’s been frequently stated that religion causes wars and violence, such as by Richard Dawkins. There’s violence from religion today in the Middle East, in Africa, India and America. However, the good news is that you can do something about this one!
Matt Rowley published an article in the Journal of Religion and Violence, What Causes Religious Violence? Three Hundred Claimed Contributing Causes last year. He is a PhD student in Cambridge, looking into the violence in religion during the 17th century Puritans in Britain and America. He explained the issue to Christian Today pretty well, saying that “you can’t just say that religion causes violence” and that “over-simplifying the issue actually endangers peace.” Were we to attempt to remove religion from society, the response would be overwhelmingly violent.
However, he says that we can control the kind of religion that remains in our society, and even the world, by being “self-critical about the justifications our religion presents for violence” such as the Old Testament stories, which were used in the past to justify and explain the violence and horror enacted by Christians in the name of God. “I meet with well-educated Christians on a regular basis and I tell them I’m studying Puritans justifications for violence and they say ‘I didn’t know Puritans were violent.’ Every group tends to go through a process of forgetting its own history of violence. Christians do the same thing. If you want to have any continuity with Church history, you have to own up to the violence Christians have committed and justified.”
Rowley encourages peaceful scholars to remind others that religion isn’t peaceful at heart. The texts in a majority of religions depict, encourage and justify violence through plenty of examples. It has led to many who feel that any violent acts can be made okay based on their faith. “For Christians, violence in the name of God has forced us to re-examine our sacred texts and self-criticize. Ultimately, this will be needed in the Muslim world, too. Any effort to force this from the outside will fail.” He adds that it’s easier to re-interpret the Bible than the Koran, whose final voice is Mohammad, the prophet who “stressed that he did not work miracles like Moses. He seemed to emphasize that miracles only harden the heart… the ultimate proof that God was on his side was victory in battle.”
Rowley believes that the terrorist regimes in the Middle East, and in Africa, will only fall once they experience a major defeat, or the simply fade away. A similar fate occurred for the Puritans, who were “continually looking at the world and seeing confirmation that God was on their side” through their victories in battle. He said that the Puritans only re-evaluated after the Cromwellian regime collapsed.