Thursday, May 09, 2013

Is Religion the Root of War?

It is an interesting irony that people who generally have very little regard for power of any religion can have an extremely high regard for a religion's power to cause people to go to war.

It seems to me that people use all sorts of reasons to justify war. Nowadays, religion is actually not a very common reason. People nowadays mostly justify wars for reasons of National Security, or for freedom, or to topple a dictator. Really, religion is only seldom mentioned any more. However, several hundred years ago in Europe, much like in the Middle East today, religion was pervasive. People not only went to war for religious reasons, they milked the cow for religious reasons, they raised their children for religious reasons, they cleaned the house for religious reasons, everything they did was for religious reasons: religion pervaded their whole life.  

So today when we hear Middle Easterners and others who have an all-prevading religious culture talk about holy war, they are not speaking of anything particularly holy--at least not any more or less holy than a holy bath or a holy meal or a holy trip. "Holy" as an adjective can be and often is attached to just about anything in life when one lives in a culture pervaded by religion.  

I think those who blame war on religion are really just looking for a soft target, a scape goat (which, again ironically, is a religious concept). Life is complicated. In my lifetime I have heard compelling arguments claiming that the primary cause of war is class struggle, poverty, race inequality, communist ideology, and totalitarian governments. Is there a box for "any of the above"?  

St. James says that wars come from our desires, that it is the lusting for pleasures and the lack of self control that lead to war.  

The world is full of unfairness and inequalities. And to make matters worse, every human being has an insatiable desire for more of something: more money, more authority, more freedom, more whatever. To be clear, I'm all for doing what can be done in love to remove inequalities; but St. Paul teaches us that contentment is not a matter of what we have or don't have. Contentment is a matter of heart, and inequalities are only overcome through humility and love, not through taking and hating. No one likes this message though, the message of the Cross. It's just foolishness to the world.

Jesus said that until the end of the world there would be wars and talk of wars. After all, it is so much easier to take from and hate the other, than to humble myself and love. And so wars are inevitable. God calls us to humility and love despite inequalities. But humility and love do not mean silence. It is loving to tell the truth. We must speak the truth in love. But to reach out our hand and take--like Adam and Eve in the Garden--is only to perpetuate the suffering: To replace the socialist oppressor with a republican oppressor, to replace a communist inequality with a capitalist inequality, or even to replace a repressive Muslim regime with a repressive Christian regime--and to kill and destroy the lives of millions in the process. As an African proverb says, "When the elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers."

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