The Myth of Religious Violence (reprised) | Strange Notions website

Cardinal Richelieu at the Siege of La Rochelle (Henri-Paul Motte, 1846-1922)

Over on Strange Notions, the “Digital Areopagus”, Dr Benjamin Wiker  (author of  Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion) has taken up some of the ideas of Dr William Cavanaugh, that were presented here on CP&S in a YouTube on 9 November last year and in Dr Cavanaugh’s books over the years. Dr Cavanaugh is senior research professor at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University in Chicago.

These ideas boil down to the judgment that the main cause of the great historical “religious wars” was political, not religious and that our secularist friends may well have some explaining to do.

One of the enduring myths of the secular state is that religion is so dangerous, so volatile, so likely to burst into conflagrations of violence, that the only protection we have from societal destruction is the erection of a wall that separates religion from the state.

We’ve all heard the story, and in fact, having also heard endless tales of horror about the great religious wars—especially the French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War—we might be strongly inclined to believe the myth.

Even my calling it a myth seems out of place. Isn’t it true—in fact, a truism—that wherever religion and politics mix, it is like gasoline and a match? Isn’t that what history teaches us?

No. History actually teaches us two things.

First, as William Cavanaugh so powerfully argues in his Myth of Religious Violence, when we take a closer look at the 16th and 17th century wars of religion we find that differences between Catholics and Protestants, and Protestants and other Protestants, were secondary to the aims of the emerging nation-states and various political and dynastic intrigues. Simply put, the main cause of these wars was political, not religious.

How can that be? If religious differences were the main cause of these bloody conflicts, Cavanaugh maintains, then we would expect to find that they were invariably fought along neat denominational lines. What we actually find is Catholic emperors attacking popes, Catholic French kings attacking Catholic emperors, Protestant kings and princes siding with Catholic kings against other Protestants, Lutheran and Catholic kings uniting against Catholic emperors, Protestant Huguenot nobles and Catholic nobles in France uniting against both Catholic and Protestant Huguenot commoners who likewise united against the nobles, Protestant and Catholic nobles in France uniting against their Catholic king . . .

Read more and see some interesting comments at The Myth of Religious Violence | Strange Notions website.

About GC

Poor sinner.
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27 Responses to The Myth of Religious Violence (reprised) | Strange Notions website

  1. Toadspittle says:

    1: “The Myth of Religious Violence..”
    2: “These ideas boil down to the judgement that the main cause of the great historical “religious wars” was political..”

    Well, which is it – myth or secondary cause? It can’t be both.
    I’m prepared to allow there are very often, if not virtually always – political elements as well as religious ones, in wars. Or contrariwise.
    But let’s take another example of hideous violence closer to our time – the partition of India. Was the factor religion a “Myth” there? Is it “political,” when Sunnis and Shias kill each other every day? There are other religions than Christianity in the world, after all. Hard to believe, I know..
    Was religious hatred and violence really a “myth” in the France of Montaigne cited above?
    He didn’t think so.
    Neither Kathleen (for one) nor I believe that what Muslims are doing to Christians in Africa today is a “myth,” and that it’s really just politics in action.
    If you kill somebody in the name of God, it’s religious, regardless of your political stance.
    And that’s what’s happening.

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  2. GC says:

    (Reprise) I think the question to be asked, Toad, is does a specific religion teach the violence as one of its essential principles or does it flow inevitably from one or more of its essential principles? If so, then you can say the specific religion causes violence. If not, then not.

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  3. Toadspittle says:

    Well, I think the question to be asked, GC, is, is religious violence a “Myth,” as the headline categorically states – or not? That’s all. Simple as that.

    It’s got nothing to do with what ‘specific’ religions teach. They teach that sin is bad.
    So it is.
    But we keep on doing it anyway, don’t we?

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  4. Toadspittle says:

    Maybe this will help.
    And then maybe not.
    If a set of people decide that a country must only be governed by, let’s say, Protestants or Sunni Muslims – is the resulting decision to kill all the Catholic or Shia opposition – political or religious?

    Or is bothering which of the two it is simply ludicrous, and lethal, hair-splitting?

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  5. JabbaPapa says:

    1: “The Myth of Religious Violence..”
    2: “These ideas boil down to the judgement that the main cause of the great historical “religious wars” was political..”
    Well, which is it – myth or secondary cause? It can’t be both.

    Your use of bold font leaves much to be desired, toad.

    The word “myth” corresponds 1:1 with the words “ideas” and “judgment”.

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  6. Toadspittle says:

    You go too far this time, Jabba – my use of bold font is regarded in elite typographical circles as being the dernier cri, if not the nonpareil, and very acme of refined sophistication.
    Sage heads in The Loony Media still talk of my remarkable facility with Nicholas Jensen in tones of hushed awe.

    But, I will absolve you this time, because I am delighted to know that you are still alive. Despite everything.

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  7. kathleen says:

    Toad declares: “Neither Kathleen (for one) nor I believe that what Muslims are doing to Christians in Africa today is a “myth,” and that it’s really just politics in action.”

    I would say that this is growing near to be called a genocide! It’s not a declared war.
    And not just in Africa… look at what is happening to Christians in the Middle East and some parts of Asia.
    But the question remains: is this the ideology of Islam, where religion and politics are so closely entwined, or is it just the hatred of groups of fanatical Muslims for non-islamic faith followers that appears to be getting out of hand?
    I’m pretty sure the majority of Muslims would say this violence and killing is not part of true Islam!
    (I would like to believe that, but it naturally goes to follow that if this is indeed so, where is the outcry from islamic leaders against so much violence on the part of their co-religionists? And why are they not doing more to try to put a stop to it? But that’s another story.)

    There is a lot of ignorance around about the true teachings of the major religions of the world. Certainly in the judeo-christian tradition war is seen as a punishment for sin, as evil, and to be avoided.
    But of course those that provoke and animate war in the first place usually have a religious identity, and their ambition, greed, and/or arrogance that trigger off war and violence (their sins as has been said) is overlooked, whereas their religion is once again seen as the culprit.
    This is where the myth lies.

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  8. Toadspittle says:

    “It’s not a declared war.”
    I hope you are not suggesting that makes the slightest difference, Kathleen? No!

    “…Certainly in the Judeo-Christian tradition war is seen as a punishment for sin, as evil, and to be avoided.”
    If war is evil, and to be avoided, why do any Christians (except maybe Quakers) volunteer to be soldiers and agree to the possibility of killing people?
    Why did many of them choose to go on crusades?

    (Yawn. Not that again. Boring.)

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  9. kathleen says:

    @ Toad

    Point no.1. No, no difference. Genocides have been committed throughout history regardless. Those that were undertaken during a war are usually at least recognised as such afterwards (like the Nazi genocide against the Jews during WW2), but we’re still waiting for the Turks to admit their barbaric genocide of the Armenian Christians almost 100 years ago.

    Point no.2. To take up arms in self-defense is completely legitimate. Had Chistendom not done so in the past, Europe would have been overrun by the Moslems or the hordes of Genghis Khan.

    But the question (as you yourself point out) is whether religion promotes violence and causes wars, or if this is just a ‘myth’.
    Wiker makes a very good argument to show that very many wars have had a political agenda behind the violence, with different religions amalgamating on each side of the conflict. There is no way that religion per se can therefore be the culprit in these cases, whatever the history chronicles have told us!

    All the same, any ideology – religious identity too – can be used as the excuse to promote violence against those who identify with a differing one.
    Then religion is blamed even when the teachings of that religion do not justify the actions of those who claim to profess it.

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  10. GC says:

    kathleen, Toad seems to be saying that if you were a member of a religious group (or any group?) and a conflict ensued with some other group, as may happen through no real fault of your own, then your religion is the “cause” of any violence that might occur.

    It appears he wants everyone to think, look and even speak the same. Then you won’t become a cause of conflict or violence.

    (Toad, over here it’s quite common to refer to yourself in the third person, though I accept it doesn’t occur that much in English, and for others also to refer back to you in the third person. For example, if I said to you “GC is furious with Toad”, it would simply mean “I am furious with you”. And if you said it to me you would be telling me that I (GC) am furious with you (Toad). Kool right? So I hardly ever noticed your “Toad this” and “Toad that” and “Toad the other thing”. It always sounded like a perfectly sensible way for you to speak, believe it or not.)

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  11. Toadspittle says:

    “It appears (Toad) wants everyone to think, look and even speak the same. Then you won’t become a cause of conflict or violence.”

    Then it appears exactly wrong, GC. What I would like is everyone to think differently. I don’t care much how they look and speak. Instead of a mere 100,000 religions in the world, (Yes, I made that number up – I’ve no idea how many there really are) I would really like seven and a half billion.
    One religion for each person in the world. Then any violence would be individual.
    Will that ever happen?
    No.

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  12. GC says:

    What I would like is everyone to think differently.

    Very well, Toad, just to oblige you, we will all think differently from Toad on this. And then we shall all be the same in thinking differently from Toad.

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  13. Toadspittle says:

    Do it to oblige yourself, GC.
    The hell with Toad.

    (..Far to much attention paid to Toad on this blog, and not enough to God.
    It will make him very self-important and arrogant (Toad, that is, not God.))

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  14. GC says:

    Do it to oblige yourself, GC.
    The hell with Toad

    Yes! Yes! Do it to oblige ourselves! Yes! The hell with Toad!

    Many thanks, Brian . . . er, Toad.

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  15. Toadspittle says:

    Hmm…I’m not sure you understand what that clip was getting at, GC.
    Which is a surprise to me.
    However, I will leave the posting of vile, blasphemous, movies to others on CP&S more qualified than myself in that quarter.

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  16. GC says:

    I myself did not see Life of Brian as “vile” or “blasphemous” all those years ago (in the late 70s, wasn’t it, when it first came out?). In particular the scene above, which I feel does not satirise religion at all. There are no scenes in the Gospel that look even remotely like what occurs in the scene. The film also satirised the proliferation of Marxist “People’s Liberation Fronts” at the time and even the way British schoolboys used to learn Latin, among many other things such as Welsh girls (no dig intended, dear ragazzagallese).

    What the scene above does satirise, I think, and satirises quite well, is the rather overblown secularist notion of “individualism” which aims to counter religious membership. According to this notion each individual is expected to have exactly the same scepticism towards religion, thereby mocking that very notion of “individualism” itself by pointing out a fundamental inconsistency in it.

    Brian: You’re all individuals!
    Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!
    Brian: You’re all different!
    Crowd: Yes! We are all different!

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  17. Toadspittle says:

    Well, GC,, naturally we are as usual, in harmonious accord regarding ,”The Life of Brian,” – which was by no means a vicious and satirical parody on the deeply-held beliefs of several million devout Christians, but a light-hearted romp in the Jerusalem of 33 A.D. where laughs were somewhat thin on the ground – and which boasts a universally-acclaimed happy ending.
    If any of CP&S’s army of faithful followers has not seen it, GC and I urge you do so, toot sweet.
    Some folk may not have had the opportunity earlier, because it was unaccountably banned entirely in Ireland and several of the more dense American states.
    Burro could “run” it for us all, maybe. What a treat! Easter special, maybe?

    I remember best the bit where a man on a hill says to a big crowd, “Blessed are the cheesmakers,” and someone hears him wrongly as saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

    Indeed the only dissenting voice regarding this timeless epic was that of Mel Gibson, who was deeply jealous, as I recall.

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  18. GC says:

    Even that scene about the cheesemakers looks like it was intended as a spoof of “your literary types” or “your intellectuals”, Toad, or perhaps even “exegetes”.

    Man: I think it was, “Blessed are the cheesemakers”!
    Gregory’s wife: What’s so special about the cheesemakers?
    Gregory: Well, obviously it’s not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.

    As for the “happy ending”, I think there we are invited to have a laugh at those “eternal optimist” types and “cheerful nihilists”, many of whom appear in the media as “counsellors” and “agony aunts” or write best-sellers about themselves if they are famous. If anything, that finale showed us how silly these types who get on the media are, suggesting too that crucifixion was no laughing matter and was fully intended not to be.

    Oh well, crucifixion – just another case of religious violence, I suppose, eh Toad? Hardly worth noticing as it happens all the time.

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  19. Toadspittle says:

    Today at 5:38 PM

    [GC: Toad’s interesting and informative video clip, containing conversations with the creators of the movie, have been removed as Toad in Toad’s exuberance may have failed to notice that it contained one brief scene which was very possibly inappropriate for a family blog such as this one]

    “As for the “happy ending”, I think there we are invited to have a laugh at those “eternal optimist” types and “cheerful nihilists”, many of whom appear in the media as “counsellors” and “agony aunts” or write best-sellers about themselves if they are famous. “

    Spot on, GC! Nothing at all to do with a gang of notorious Atheists (Pythons!) whose sole intention was to drag the Holy Name of Christ through the gutters in the name of Making a Buck.
    And… if you watch a bit of the clip above, you will see how they changed the whole direction of the screenplay – and its name- from an assault on Christ himself to one on, well, something else – mindless credulity about what bossy people tell us, perhaps.
    Otherwise the naughty boys might easily have upset people less smart than you. (Forget Ireland – it’s hopeless, Or was, back then.) That is to say, practically everybody.

    Still, as we both heartily agree, let’s all first watch the movie this Easter (please Burro!) – and then judge for ourselves.
    Pass the Popecorn, please!

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  20. GC says:

    You’ve got Christ saying very good things and saying the right things . . . umm . . . as a wonderful figure, though that’s not where the fun lies really, said the Gilliam fellow in that clip you gave, Toad. Well, there you have it.

    Toad, lampooning a crop of people’s liberation fronts, Latin classes, transgendered people’s human rights, people with speech impediments, Welsh girls, hippy sorts, pseudo-intellectual chatterboxes etc. etc. etc. didn’t used to be blasphemy unless they’ve changed all that. There was not one scene in there where Jesus was blasphemed and I can remember laughing right through it as I had experienced nearly all of those things as a young university student in the mid to late 70s (we didn’t have any Welsh girls, as far as I know).

    It was some of the things going on in Britain in the 70s that were being made fun of, you know the world you probably thought was marvellous.

    Toad, you can’t make a 2+ hour-long movie blaspheming Jesus. Just ain’t possible, as the Gilliam fellow discovered.

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  21. Toadspittle says:

    “Toad, you can’t make a 2+ hour-long movie blaspheming Jesus. Just ain’t possible, as the Gilliam fellow discovered.”

    Goodness, you’re being obtuse, GC. Of course you can’t – and that’s why the film is called the “Life of Brian,” and not “The Life of Jesus.”
    But, thanks to the usual standard brainwork of The Catholic Church in Ireland, the film was banned there.
    Obviously Irish Catholics (a notably intelligent group) think Brian was a blasphemer.
    We don’t, you and I, do we? We know better. Not hard to do.

    “It was some of the things going on in Britain in the 70s that were being made fun of, you know the world you probably thought was marvellous.”
    Indeed I did, GC. Because, for me, the world – in every decade after the 50s – has been “marvellous.”
    I have been remarkably lucky. Sorry about you, though, from your somewhat wistful-sounding comment.

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  22. JabbaPapa says:

    Why is Toad attempting to create some pointless “controversy”, based on thin air, whilst attempting to insult the intelligence of the Irish (isn’t that racist ?), concerning Life of Brian ?

    Is there some sort of Pythonite religious dogma that all who fail to appreciate the comic wit must be publicly vilified for their stupidity ?

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  23. Toadspittle says:

    Very good, and penetrating questions, Jabba. No more than we have come to expect.
    I – for one – have no idea.
    Maybe Toad is simply off his head.

    And there are a lot of very intelligent Catholic Irish people indeed.
    In England and America.

    Like

  24. kathleen says:

    “Is there some sort of Pythonite religious dogma that all who fail to appreciate the comic wit must be publicly vilified for their stupidity ?”

    And being half Irish myself, and having seen no more than a few trailers of the IMO appalling film in question, I feel mightily offended! 😉

    But then Toad himself (who craftily manages to hide the fact here) is likewise of Irish ancestry… perhaps even more so than this 50% Irish (ahem) colleen! So he is biting off his nose to spite his face, as they say. 😆

    Can’t go without saying how great it is to have you popping over here again from time to time dear Jabba. Where have you been, you rascal? We’ve missed you.

    Like

  25. Toadspittle says:

    Faithanbegob, GC. Now look what yez gon an’ done!* Kathleen’s jiggin’ mad!

    However, Toad hides nothing – being, as far as he knows – 100% Irish Catholic descent, because St. Paddy unaccountably failed to boot out the toads along with the serpints.
    Nor has he any nose – to speak of – worth cutting off. (Toad, that is, not St. Paddy.)

    (I think Jabba has been in the sanitorium.)

    *Fake Limerick accent required.

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  26. JabbaPapa says:

    Where have you been, you rascal? We’ve missed you.

    Walking here and there, but not on the road to Toad.

    I should update my own luvvly blogg, as a dear friend would describe it, rather than letting mistaken friends and Telegraph trolls passim present their falsehoods.

    Like

  27. kathleen says:

    “I should update my own luvvly blogg..”

    Please do.

    Like

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