Comments: opinion

Regarding Karen Armstrong's article on the myth of religious violence,
I think she tries too hard to find secular purposes for European religious violence.
But then, I admit I stopped reading it rather quickly.

Her description of the Spanish Inquisition as a "deeply flawed attempt" to bring about internal order, after years of civil war, stopped me cold. First, it made me wonder who the parties to this civil war were? The Christians and the Muslims? The Christians and the Jews? Upright religious men against "pagan" women -- women whose true "sin" may have been wanting to think for themselves?
Further, the Spanish Inquisition was not about enemies "outside" Spain. The Inquisitors weren't concerned about the Turks.
No, the threat was from "inside". "We told Jews to leave, convert, or die. How can we be sure the converts are sincere?" [That kind of logic floors me to this day.] "Why aren't these women docile and meek?"
People tortured in unimaginable ways, then burned alive at the stake. Synagogues emptied of oxcart-load upon oxcart-load of Talmuds and Torahs and other Jewish writings, and then burned at the stake, along with rabbis and scholars. Centuries of Jewish flourishing crushed in the name of religion, with King Ferdinand and proposed saint Queen Isabella looking on. "Deeply flawed."

And, yes, the Protestant vs. Catholic wars had territorial components, but it was also all about religion. Religion drove the pace, the intensity.

I, for one, am grateful for the modern nation-states in Europe and North America, which keeps government out of religion and religion out of government.
Europe saw its greatest technological advancement AFTER scientists were able to pursue knowledge, free of religious intrusion. Religious freedom flourished AFTER the concept of separation of the religious and the secular came into being.
And, for that, I quite sincerely, without irony, say, “Hallelujuah! Praise God!”

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Saturday, 27 September 2014 at 6:51pm BST

I hate 'lists' and rankings. It leads to false 'debate' and also cheap programmes on television that have no documentary or investigative value. So to contradict myself, 80 and 79 are ridiculously low especially in what seems to be further up the list. I'm assuming Don Cupitt is in the first 50, unless he has been excluded by category error.

Posted by Pluralist at Saturday, 27 September 2014 at 10:32pm BST

I must admit,ruefully, that my faith is often self-centred. I have a hierarchy of care and the 'common good' perhaps isn't placed at the top. Re the Top 100 Books (100-51), I have only Marilynne Robinson's Gilead on my bookshelves, unread. Time to do something about that!

Posted by Pam at Saturday, 27 September 2014 at 11:42pm BST

I think I have to disagree with almost all of that, Peter. The Spanish Inquisition was an instrument of the state, and it was more about the Spanish monarchy extending its power over religious life in its new realm than it was about a simple conflict between religions. While everybody expects the Spanish Inquisition inevitably to turn up on the litany of religion's supposed crimes, I think it's more correctly seen as one of the first intrusions of the modern nation state into the lives of its citizens: less the legacy of medieval Catholicism than the precursor of the NSA and the SIS.

Nor am I as enthused as you are by the "separation of the religious and the secular." Of course the distinction between secular and religious authority was perfectly familiar in medieval Europe, but the ideal was that the two should work in harmony and without conflict to identical ends. What you refer to as the separation of the secular and the religious was really the attempt by secular powers to subordinate religion and 'tame' it. The process that began with Ferdinand and Isabella (and Henry VIII) asserting the supremacy of the secular realm over the church ends with the Protestant Reich Church of Nazi Germany. A strange concept of "religious freedom" to be sure - freedom to be religious so far as the supremacy of the state permits. I am reminded of this when I see so called "hate-preachers" (both Muslim and Christian) arrested in the UK merely for exercising their post-Enlightenment liberty of conscience and freedom of expression in ways that are outrageous to the secular authorities.

So no, I'm not grateful for godless modern polities, though I suspect that the reason some of us feel the need to express gratitude for them is the sensation that they might be under threat. With religion reasserting itself in public life and the post-Christian moral consensus collapsing all about our ears, there is a feeling that we are entering what Habermas calls a "post-secular society." If this means religious communities, including Anglicans, affirming publicly that they have a higher loyalty than any they might owe to the state, then this might not be any bad thing.

Posted by rjb at Sunday, 28 September 2014 at 3:38am BST

"the post-Christian moral consensus collapsing all about our ears"

I see no such collapse! Agreement on what is right and wrong is very strong in the UK: it is wrong to steal, it is wrong to cheat, it is wrong to discriminate on grounds of race, religion, or sexuality. Everyone should be treated fairly. It is wrong to behead people!!!!

The evils of "Islamic" fundamentalism will not be defeated by "Christian" fundamentalism. The secular vision of justice and human rights is much stronger than people give it credit for.

I was in Egypt during the 2011 revolution and that is what most people were fighting for. Right now it is lost to fascist military dictatorship, but just like South America and Eastern Europe, things will change. They will not become perfect, but they will get better.

The mythical age of "Victorian morality" was much further from the Kingdom of God, than 21st Century Britain, for all its problems.

Posted by Iain Baxter at Sunday, 28 September 2014 at 10:48am BST

gb, I see your comment as an attempt to avoid any blame on religion.
God only knows, lots of wars and violence have been done by secular societies, but "convert or die" was religious in practice.
And, whereas you see Nazi Germany (and, by extension, Stalinist Russia?) as the culmination of the secular state, I see the flourishing of multiple religions in the USA and UK.
Nazi Germany intruded into religion. Ideally, the modern nation-state leaves religion alone, leaves religion free to chart its own course. No interference.

Posted by peterpi - Peter Gross at Sunday, 28 September 2014 at 4:42pm BST

Karen Armstrong's article, The Myth of Religious Violence, is what one would expect. It is erudite, tightly argued, formidable. The problem is the way in which issues are delineated.

Violence is a universal social phenomenon related to power, either maintaining it or in reaction to it by those who see themselves as completely without power. This is tacitly implied in her article.

As such, religious based violence is hardly mythical. The support of the Vietnam war by evangelicals, the opposition to integration by some Episcopal parishes during the civil rights movement, the support of residential schools by Canadian Anglicanism, the connection between religion and violence is clear. It is a curse shared by religions, materialist ideologies, and the half way house of colonial deists.

Presbyterian theologian Robert McAfee Brown writes, "Black Children brought up in situations of substandard housing and inferior schooling ... are victims of institutionalized covert violence. knives have been drawn, no blood has been shed, no bones have been broken, and yet the person-hood of those children may have been violated to such a degree by ..their society that violence is an appropriate term to describe what has happened to them."(Religion and Violence. Westminster Press, 1973).

Furthermore, violence is inherent in religious traditions. What could be more violent than the classic Christian doctrine of the substitution theory of atonement? Violence is a liability of all ideologies, those that postulate a divinity and those that do not.

Posted by Rod Gillis at Monday, 29 September 2014 at 3:13am BST

Thank you Gillan Scott...that is so helpful. I shall save it and use it as a basis for a future sermon.

Posted by robertellis at Wednesday, 1 October 2014 at 6:58am BST
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