Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christians Can’t Dodge the Blame PART ONE

Ian Hutson, the SA NZ  explores the Christian response to ‘religious wars’ and to the violence we are witnessing around the world in the name of religion.

With what seems like disturbing regularity, the media reports horrendous acts of violence. Children gunned down, innocent civilians killed by bombs or bullets, and hostages executed publically when demands aren’t met. We hear reports from various commentators attributing this increase in violence around the world to religion. Religion is irrational, archaic and dangerous—or so they say.

Who’s to blame?

Although in recent years there has been a lot of finger pointing at Islamic extremists, Christians can’t dodge the blame either. Examples include the crusades, sectarian Catholic and Protestant violence in Europe, and support for the Apartheid system in South Africa. We must admit that our own history is a mixed bag, and that violence has been perpetrated in the name of Christianity.
With the regularity that we hear the mantra ‘religion is the cause of all wars’, it would be easy to become disenchanted in our faith. If it’s said often enough it must be true—right?

But, like so much else about the issue of religion’s relationship with war and violence, such generalisations are incredibly simplistic and misleading. Not only do they misrepresent the powerful benefit for good that flows out of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also much of the positive influence of the family of God throughout history.

At the same time, it could be equally easy to deny the culpability of ‘our’ religion, while accepting uncritically everything that is said about another religion. A better understanding of other people’s faiths, along with the context underlying their belief and behaviour, is part of ‘loving our neighbour’—or doing unto others what we sometimes wish our secular friends would do unto us, when they dismissively judge our Christianity.

Our view of Christianity and its relation to war and violence is a subject worthy of thought, as we seek to shape our faith in a way that reflects the love we have for God and as we seek to honour him.

Religion causes war

The accusation that religion causes war is especially simplistic when applied to the pre-modern era. Religion, then, was not thought of as somehow separate from the rest of life and therefore could not be specifically identified as the cause of war. In reality, people groups, states and empires resorted to war for multiple reasons, including economic and social concerns.

Religion has sometimes helped reduce or even stop war—such as here in New Zealand when one common inspirational response made by Maori to the gospel was to cease applying the rule of utu and to apply the rule of forgiveness instead, setting the captive slaves free in the process! This kind of religiously-motivated outbreak of peace has often been overlooked.

So, too, has the fact that secular states have often been incredibly violent. Think of the French revolution (the birthplace of the secular state), Communist Russia, the regimes of the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey, not to mention Hitler’s Germany.

Religion has often acted as a corrective to state violence, with variations of the ‘do unto others what you would like others to do unto you’ golden rule, which is not only found in Christianity. Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu—and here in New Zealand the Maori prophets Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi at Parihaka—are  clear examples of religious leaders who did much to avert violence by refusing to use it, even for what they clearly saw as a just cause. This was only possible because of their religious convictions.

Violence vs peace

A religion can also be greatly affected by the context that it exists within, so that we sometimes see religions respond to and reflect the anguish and fears of the culture and people it exists within. An essentially peaceful religion can become more violent and aggressive in its thinking when it is imbedded in a people who live in a climate of fear, violence and humiliation. In that context it can be hard to determine whether the religion was intrinsically evil and violent, or was ‘turned’ that way by the extreme context it existed within.

In New Zealand, the peace that first came to Maori through Christianity initially resulted in increasingly peaceful relations between various Iwi. It was a peaceful religion. However, with the land wars, the loss of land, devastating epidemics and the loss of mana, Maori experienced huge disillusionment and despair. This left them open to religious leaders who espoused a more aggressive theology that sometimes emphasised violent Old Testament themes. A religion of violence.

It would seem that too often the love of God does not work sufficiently in our lives that it reaches to our neighbour and that we do not always meet the call of Jesus to ‘love our enemies’.


Lieut-Colonel Ian Hutson
Divisional Commander of the Central Division in New Zealand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm continually amazed, challenged and encouraged by the broad spectrum of inspiring articles that your blog posts, on a daily basis. I've only come on to your site recently, but have found absolute treasure in checking back to earlier posts. Google practicall any subject delving into religion, ethics or social responsibility and add the word Salvation Army, and up pop posts from your good fellowship.

If ever I'm near a SA church on a Sunday I will look in- In the meantime, I'll worship with you.

Baptist in the sticks