Religion and violence

Maj General -1

Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, 25th Inf. Div. (L) commander, addresses some soldiers in Iraq, before their departure to Mosul, where they will conduct combat operations for the upcoming Iraqi elections (Jan 05).

If god exists or not is a question I have given up asking. I live my life without a god and, with the possible exception of Sunday morning, the way I live my life doesn’t seem to be any different from the way most Christians do. I do live my life with a sense of Wonder; a sense that there is more to life than what we see and I like to call that Unknowable, the Divine.

I admire people who believe in a god…as long as they hold that belief lightly. I also admire people who do not believe in god and hold that belief lightly. What I do not admire is people who think they know god and know what god wants; people who know how god wants us to have sex or who know that god wants us to fly jets into buildings. But I also don’t admire people who want to blame everything on religion and believe the world would be peachy keen if we all lived like secular Americans with a separation of  church and state  (interestingly enough, it always seems to be somebody else’s belief that is the problem). I don’t admire people who think that life in the United States is the only right way of life and are willing to kill for it. Not kill to defend themselves when attacked like we were in WWII, mind you; but to go out and kill somebody because they don’t have our values of capitalism or the sanctity of life.

These thoughts were rekindled on this bright and sunny Sunday when I was directed to an article in The National Catholic Review through a post in The Dish by Andrew Sullivan & Co. The article said what I have been thinking and I want to pass it on because it says it much better than I can. Here are a couple of tidbits that catch a little of the flavor of the article but the entire article is very much worth reading (if you ever think about these sort of things).

Westerners are fascinated by the nexus of “religion and violence.” War on behalf of nationalism and freedom and oil and other such mundane secular matters hardly counts as violence at all. At the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Qatar in 2007, nearly four years into the U.S. occupation of Iraq, David Satterfield, senior adviser and coordinator for Iraq in the office of the U.S. Secretary of State, gave a speech condemning those in Iraq “who try to achieve their goals through the use of violence.” As the journalist Rami Khouri sardonically commented, “As if the U.S. had not used weapons when invading Iraq!”

What is important for our present purposes is to see how the religious/secular divide functions in our public discourse about violence. It serves to draw our attention toward certain types of practices—Islam, for example—and away from other types of practices, such as nationalism. Religion is the bogeyman for secular society, that against which we define ourselves. We have learned to tame religion, to put it in its proper, private place; they (Muslims, primarily) have not. We live in a publicly secular and therefore rational society; they have not learned to separate secular matters like politics from religion, and so they are prone to irrationality. We hope they will come to their senses and be more like us. In the meantime, we reserve the right periodically to bomb them into being more rational.

Check it out.

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