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article imageOp-Ed: Are the Paris massacres religious?

By Frank Kaufmann     Jan 20, 2015 in World
New York - Some human beings are violent. Some are religious. Some are one or the other. Some are both. Some are neither.
Is there such a thing as religious violence per se?
The world is full of people who are just plain violent. That’s how they are, usually from some bad mix of nature and nurture. Violent behavior can be broken down into two types, a reactive, “lashing out” on the one hand, and a greed driven, aggressive pursuit of advantage and dominance, on the other.
Most societies make allowances for certain reactive occasions of violence, for example taking another’s life in self-defense, or even in defense merely of property. On the other hand, society never excuses violence committed simply in pursuit of advantage or supremacy.
What of the religious element? Here the matter can be complicated, especially when things are intense, as they are presently with such events as the Charlie Hebdo and the Paris, Kosher deli massacres.
Religion has many dimensions, purposes and roles in society and in people’s lives. The fact that it offers believers an ideology or worldview is only one such aspect. Religions, for example encourage us to clothe the poor, feed the hungry, and care for the elderly. They encourage us to be prayerful and meditative, and to be humble before the infinite divine and before others. They provide comfort and solace, and a community of people who care for us, and whom we can trust. These parts of religion do not lead to violence, and in fact often do just the opposite. People do not become violent while trying to care for others in need.
The part of religion that can be tied to violence is the ideological part, the grand systems purporting to explain reality and life, and help people deal with scary uncertainties, confusion, injustices, disorder and disaster. Ideologies can cause violent behavior by what is affirmed and taught, or by the intensity that some people attach themselves to these assuring views and explanations.
Violent ideologies, or sick attachments to normal ideologies are not unique to religious belief. A great many comprehensive worldviews are non or anti-religious in origin and and expression. Many ideologies justify violence. Marxism, for example proved to be remarkably violent. Some say ideologies derived from Darwinian worldviews have a natural seam with violence.
Currently our global situation is especially sick with brutal, barbaric occasions of violence. We see these in places such as Paris, Syria, and Nigeria (to name only a few). Many are tempted to see these in terms of a clash between “the West” on one side, and Islamist informed cultures on the other. But so much of the ugliest and most vile forms of violence perpetrated by Islamist militants are perpetrated against Muslims and innocents from in their own cultures and countries, making analysis based on so simple a dichotomy wrong-headed.
As people of good will work together to address our tragic descent into evil and barbarity, we should distinguish between religion (a broad and complex social and historical reality, much of it with wonderful good in it) and a small part of the religious experience, namely ideology. Recognizing this distinction will make our analyses and reactions wiser, more sophisticated and better informed. We should keep in mind that non-religious ideologies can be every bit as damaging to human dignity, rights, and even the sanctity of human life as religious zealotry.
If a worldview justifies aggressive cultural-political expansion and domination, and a rapacious sense of entitlement to grow market share at any cost, causes death and human desecration, then we must be vigilant to oppose and diminish this worldview and its perpetrators. Are such views perversions of Christianity, excesses arising out of the “Judeo-Christian” philosophical roots of “the West.” Or are such ideologies wholly non-religious? We seek that answer not in order to blame and create enemies, but rather to be effective. If it turns out such views are a perversion of Christianity, then Christians should be especially helpful when seeking cures and solutions.
If a worldview exists that justifies ethnic cleansing, raping women, using children as bombs, and exterminating thought-dissidents by vigilante squads, then we must find ways to oppose and diminish this worldview. Are such views perversions of Islam, or from the “Muslim” cultural sphere? Or are such ideologies perfectly non-religious? We seek that answer not to blame and create enemies, but to be effective. If it turns out such views are a perversion of Islam, then Muslims should be especially helpful when seeking cures and solutions.
It is vital to know the roots and origins of violent and inhumane ideologies. But it is as important not to be simplistic or confused in our categories when seeking solutions to the horrors that now grow virulently around us.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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