Collisions of Religion and Violence: Redux

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have brought to the focal point of public consciousness a topic that was featured in the Summer issue of CrossCurrents: namely, the relationship between religion and violence. In that volume, several of our writers focused on the ways in which violence is dealt with within the Judeo/Christian tradition. Since the events of September, Islam has become a subject of renewed interest as well as much misunderstanding. The wanton destruction of life at the World Trade Center has reinforced the presumption of the part of many that  Islam is a religion more likely to offer a justification of violence than other world religions. 

Meanwhile, Christians and Jews in the United States and elsewhere are wrestling with the question of how their faith might inform their view of a "war on terrorism." Does the Judeo/Christian tradition provide a basis for the use of violence even in a cause that is just? If so, what is the basis of that justification, and what limits might the tradition impose upon the use of force as an instrument of foreign policy? Are there significant differences between the fundamental teachings of Islam, Judaism and Christianity in this context? And above all, what are the prospects that these three world religions, which are part of the one Abrahamic tradition, might actually contribute to justice and peace in a world now poised on the brink of war?

To help address such questions, we have assembled here, in addition the articles from the Summer issue, several articles that hopefully provide a basis for constructive conversation across lines of religious difference. 

Readers interested in exploring similarities and differences among Christianity, Judaism and Islam might want to begin with Johan Galtung's survey of major world religions:

Religions, Hard and Soft
"Every religion contains, in varying degrees, elements that contribute to peace or war. For the sake of world peace, dialogue within religions and among them must strengthen the peacemaking elements within them."
by Johan Galtung

For a clear and compelling statement of basic Muslim teaching, few have presented it better than Riffat Hassan, who teaches at the University of Louisville.

What Does It Mean To Be Muslim Today?
"To be a Muslim means to be both Allah-conscious and creature-conscious, and to understand the interconnectedness of all aspects of one's life, of the life of all creation and of our life in this transient world to life eternal." 
by Riffat Hassan

The Politics of Religious Correctness: Islam and the West
"Follow Alice through the looking glass, and the clash of civilizations reveals itself in a new -- and surprising -- guise. To enter the language of Islam and the West is then, with Alice, to enter the Wonderland of the Looking Glass. It is an instructive perspective; but only if we Westerners know we are looking not at another but at ourselves."

by John C. Raines

From the Summer issue:

Written and published prior to the September 11th terrorist attacks, the following articles from the summer issue clearly illustrate that the problem of violence is one that Christians and Jews have been wrestling with for centuries and not always with results that can be admired.

Editorial: The Image on Impact
Catherine Madsen and Scott Holland

Notes on God's Violence
Catherine Madsen

Blood & Stone: Violence in the Bible & the Eye of the Illustrator 
Barry Moser

The Violence of God: Dialogic Fragments
Julie Shoshana Pfau and David R. Blumenthal

The final selection from this series is essential reading for Christians who have difficulty seeing the shadow side of their own tradition, or fail to understand how the Christian faith can be so deeply feared by so many. 

Violence in Christian Theology
J. Denny Weaver

Additional articles:

When I Boarded the Midwest Express to Washington, D.C., on September 11
Danile C. Maguire

Theology and the Clash of Civilizations
Jack Miles

To Whom Shall We Give Access to Our Water Holes?
Farid Esack

The Gospel of Peace and the Violence of God
Scott Holland

On the Rhetoric of a "War on Terrorism"
Kyle Fedler

Experiencing Violence, Shaping Identity, Negotiating Life
Barbara Strassberg

Having seen how religion can sometimes inadvertently contribute to a "culture of violence," Elise Boulding outlines what it might take to build a "culture of peace."

Peace Culture: The Problem of Managing Human Difference
"Peace culture, neither a fantasy nor accident, is as central to human nature as war culture."
by Elise Boulding

Whether or not religion plays a constructive part in the struggle for justice may well depend on how the relationship between faith and politics is mediated in various societies.

Religion, Politics, and the State: Cross-Cultural Observations
"
Worldwide, the volatile - and often violent - combination of a religious state with religious politics is on the rise. Of the alternatives, the author finds the secular state with religious politics most promising. But it is increasingly rare."
by N. J. Demerath III and Karen S. Straight

Economic Sanctions, Just War Doctrine, and the "Fearful Spectacle of the Civilian Dead
"Sanctions, like siege, intend harm to civilians and therefore cannot be justified as a tool of warfare."
by Joy Gordon

Whether of the Christian or Muslim variety, fundamentalism is the scapegoat that secular societies as well as mainstream religious leaders love to despise. This may be a fatal mistake, argues Peter Huff, persuasively. 

The Challenge of Fundamentalism for Interreligious Dialogue
"Interreligious dialogue will never fulfill its unique mission until it recognizes the fundamentalisms of the world as conversation partners."

Peter A. Huff

Whether one wrestles with the ethical implications of war making, biomedical ethics, or end-of-life decisions, being able to distinguish what falls properly under the providence of God from what lies within the scope of human responsibility is critical. 

Playing God: Divine Activity, Human Activity, and Christian Ethics
"Christian ethicists confidently assume that God acts in the world--but largely avoid the awkward question of how."
Joseph M. Incandela

Islam and the Trialogue of Abrahamic Religions
by Leonard Swidler

Vaclav Havel is regarded by many as having a clearer sense of how spirituality can be a mediating force in the confrontation between cultures of the East and West than any other. 

A Sense of the Transcendent
"By once more taking nourishment
from their life-giving spiritual roots,
East and West can open an era of mutual inspiration.
The precondition is readiness to step beyond
dead habits and deadly prejudice."

Vaclav Havel