Religions of Violence by Ralph L. Lynn In my darker moments, I am tempted to say that most of the people who take religion really seriously tend to kill each other. There is so much truth in the statement that it should be examined. First, it seems that across the religious spectrum, we have two kinds of people who take religion seriously. Second, the world religions differ in the degree of tolerance they practice. Third, the general culture development of society seems determinative in these matters. The religious of all religions who take religion seriously seem to fall into two groups: those the vast majority interested almost solely in the theological propositions which define their faith and the minority, impatient and bored with ideology, whose primary interest is in the ethical teachings of the faith. Obviously, the theologically religious are responsible for the often-murderous record of some religions. This violent intolerance seems unjustifiable since theology presumes the impossible that finite man can know the Infinite. But specializing in theological propositions has wide appeal. It affords the masses of the mindless a false but comforting certainty. It frees people from the necessity of grappling with annoying earthly problems. And it offers a degree of safety from persecution since nobody can tell what a theological formulation means nor can anybody tell how honest any individual may be with his protestations of theological orthodoxy. The minority, impatient and bored with theological propositions, have chosen a more difficult path. They have learned to live with theological uncertainty and they have no protective mantle of theological orthodoxy. Their daily conduct is there for all to see and measure. None of this is to imply that the theologically religious do not live clean and decent lives. The problem is that their absorption with theological propositions allows them to give divine sanction to racism, to the denial of political rights to the weak, to the denial of educational opportunities to the poor, and to niggardly social services to the needy. Religious people outside the Jewish-ChristianMuslim family who do not regard any religion as uniquely authentic and who have no single sa cred text are much less likely to kill each other. As Henry Adams said of these billions of people, they “bet on the gods as they do on the horses one to win, one to place and one to show.” The Jews at the fountainhead of the exclusive faiths have shot each other up much less than the Christians and Muslims. This is probably because the Jews, who may have a legitimate claim to a clear understanding of their Scriptures, say that there is not just one but many Jewish traditions. I once heard a teacher of rabbis define a Jew as just any sincere seeker after God. Finally and however regrettably it has not been from religion itself but from the development of orderly society, a rising standard of living and rising educational standards that the violence between religious groups has ceased in Western society. “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live” is still in the Bible but it is ignored by even the most rabid of the inerrantists. Trials for heresy have been almost nonexistent among us since the 17th century; we now content ourselves with character assassination. True, religious war is a reality in the southeastern parts of the Soviet Union and in the Middle East. But it is not just a wisecrack to say that these unfortunates are in the 20th century only by courtesy of the calendar. Their murderous passions will also wane with the development of orderly societies, a rising standard of living and rising education levels for all members of their societies. The tragedy among us is that the teaching for tolerance has been available from religious sources all of the time. We need not have to await political, economic, and educational advances to free us from barbarism. We do not even need to abandon interest in theological propositions. But perhaps the theologically religious and the ethically religious need to find a common basis for new approaches. The much celebrated “old time religion” is just not good enough. Ralph L. Lynn is Professor Emeritus, Baylor University. 16 MAY 31, 1991
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