In the Name of Religion
It is not difficult to make a list of horrible conflicts in Western civilization that have occurred in the name of religion. Christians persecuted Jews, "pagans," and heretics for centuries. Both Muslims and Christians performed many atrocities during the Crusades. Protestants and Catholics have seemingly been in constant conflict, even up to our century.
In keeping with their popular image, maybe Eastern religions have kept Asian societies more peaceful and contemplative. But this is not the case. Horrifying violence between Hindus and Muslims has occurred in India over the centuries, and in Sri Lanka, a civil war has persisted over the past few decades between Hindus and, surprisingly enough, Buddhists.
And the list goes on . . . without even mentioning contemporary terrorism and the response to it..
Most if not all religions espouse peace as a fundamental value, and most if not all have a reflective side. And yet religion also inflames passions and helps to motivate and direct action. Religion can promote a sense of entitlement and stubbornness about ultimate truths. It also marks out the world: a religious tradition provides a community with identity, sometimes leading to an "us vs. them" mentality. While religion almost always proclaims that it values peace, it is often a significant factor in conflict between individuals, groups, tribes, and nations.
But must religion inevitably promote, foster, or even create violence and bloody conflict? Certainly not. In reflecting on the clashes between human beings, religious studies often assists us understand why people are fighting and what they are fighting for. So often we simply don't know the answers to these questions, and not caring often comes soon after not knowing. In reflecting on figures like Gandhi and Martin Luther King (among so many others), religious studies also helps us understand how and why someone religious might fight for peace.
Is religion about passion, division, arrogance, and self-righteousness? Sometimes. But many great figures in human history have argued that religion is truly about tolerance, inclusiveness, universals, and respect. Studying war and peace, both the conflict and the overcoming of it, teaches invaluable lessons for our world, which is still so troubled by old divisions and terrifying violence.