CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Violence and religion

A growing belief around the world that everyone would be better off without religion because of its connection with violence is at least a salutary wake up call to all religions to look at the impact of their words and actions, and self-presentation.
 
Currently, there are many events going on in the world that contribute to the popular belief that there is a connection between adherence to a religious faith and violence.
 
The persecution of the Rohingya people in the Union of Myanmar is perpetually presented as a conflict between Islam and Buddhism. The terrible conflict in Syria is seen as an attempt to impose Islam across not only an entire population, but the whole world.
 
Closer to home in the Christian world, maybe the standout example was Northern Ireland, which is almost invariably described as Catholic versus Protestant.
 
No matter how obvious it may be that the removal of religion would not see an end to violence, as illustrated by four of the big names in the game; Pol Pot, Hitler, Stalin and Mao, it is an argument that cuts little grass. Archbishop George Browning, a former Anglican archbishop of Canberra, suggests that rather than adherence to a religious faith being a contributing factor to violence, the hijacking of religion to give credence to a cause is closer to the root of the problem.
 
He suggests that in World War I, religion was used to inspire support for what was really a power struggle between the leaders of Britain, Russia and Germany, all of whom were descendants of Queen Victoria.
 
In Northern Ireland, the minority Protestant population held power and privilege, which the majority Catholic group saw as a colonialism past its use by date. But the recruitment of religion on both sides helped to make the unacceptable acceptable.
 
The so-called wars of religion back through the centuries have all been intricately connected with power and wealth grabs, including the famed Crusades, which were but a struggle among popes, kings and emperors to assert their ascendancy, often domestically.
 
Catholic commentators and historians have been anxious to show that Catholics have been well represented at the frontlines in times of conflict and priests have found arguments to diminish the responsibility of members of their flocks involved in military movements against their own people; as in El Salvador, The Philippines, Italy and South Africa to name a few.
 
But this is not the beginning of the violence. Domestic violence is shared proportionately among people of all faiths and none. When problems of violence invade night life areas of major cities, the immediate reaction is to limit the alcohol, while the basic problem is not the drink, but the innate violence bubbling in the gut. The real challenge is to remove the violence, the grog is incidental.
 
For the past 100 years, popes, bishops and religious leaders have issued statements opposing the use of violence and promoting dialogue as a means of settling disputes, but few seem to have listened.
 
Pax Christi is suggesting that what is lacking is grassroots programmes that promote cooperation, respect, consensus-building and fair play. It says that it is not enough to condemn violence, but active demonstrations of the power of nonviolence are needed.
 
In other words, what is needed is witness to the power of nonviolence, not the apologetics of theory. JiM