Religious Violence, one of the greatest myths ever told in 21st Century

April 21st, 2016 3:50 pm

HadjeHadje Cresencio Sadje is an associate member in the Center for Palestine Studies-SOAS University of London UK. He is currently a master student at the Protestant Theological University-Groningen and has been working with various faith-based organisation including, Escaping Barcode Life-The Netherlands, PhISO, and Foundation University-Amsterdam The Netherlands.



‘International relations can no longer afford to use uncritical, outdated,
and essentially Western concepts of “religion” and “secular”
as if they were neutral descriptors of the facts on the ground.’

William T. Cavanaugh

Religious violence is hotly contested public topic among religious and non-religious circles. Obviously, religious violence is now a global challenge, and demand our careful attention, as being a member of WSCF-Europe, we should be a vigilant citizen, particularly in the current situation. By this time, mainstreams media displays disturbing images of jihadist out of context and retrofitting them to the polemical purposes, religion as the main root cause of modern violence. Conceivably, this image of religion stirs up controversy depicted as, intrinsically, anti-rational. For instance, the prevailing currents of thought about Islam.

Image source: Interfaith Explorers

It may be possible, as Edward Said argues, this misleading category is inspired by the thought of the American conservative political scientist, Samuel Huntington. According to Huntington’s thesis, the global politics would be dominated by the war between West and non-Western civilisations (Islam & Confucianism). In other words, these would be national identity and cultural clash. Said added, it is a recycle version Cold War rhetoric. I would say that, global war of terror, is a religious rhetoric version of the Cold War. Although, it is contestable, the connection between the 9/11 attacks and Huntington thesis has led to some ultraconservative political movement to promote anti-Islam, particularly in the Western countries.

It may be possible that misinformed individuals’ gets basic facts wrong about religion from the mass media or press. Clearly, mass media or press plays an influential role in the life of modern society, and contributed to prevailing and damaging depiction of religion in our times.

In the light of the recent terrorist attacks, suicide bombing continuously unceasing on the global scale, the pertinent question would be, does religion cause violence? According to William T. Cavanaugh, the myth of religious violence is used to create a religious “other” which can then be exploited, marginalized, coerced, and denigrated (1). Therefore, religion should be separated from secular or mundane activity. However, Cavanaugh disagree with the conventional differentiation of religion and secular categories. Also, Cavanaugh argues, these categories are too simplistic, and not based on empirical studies. Usually, as Cavanaugh argues, when we define something it means wildly different things to different people, particularly religion and secular categories. As Edward Said describes, both definition and meaning, are contestable. For example, “the separation of church and state” are foreign concept to Muslim countries.

Since, the secular apologists arguing the main cause of modern violence is religion, Cavanaugh contend with the great deal of tension on the following modern concepts such us, nationalism, secularism, ethnocentrism, fascism, and humanism—ideologies in other words, could be violent as some religious ideologies. Using religious language to cover-up their political agenda, Cavanaugh argues, this myth is a rhetoric to hide secular causes of global war on terror, and to commit hostility, and to marginalize certain individual and group.

Historically, it reminds me about the Great Fire of Rome. According to Tacitus (Roman historian), as scapegoat, Emperor Nero blamed early Christians, in results, Christians were subjected to public humiliation, massive persecutions, torture, and mass murder. Today, I believe that, religion in general, suffer the same situation. I would dare to say, to blame all deadly attacks to religion we failed to see the whole picture. We must take care to look at the whole picture. We need wisdom in this time of uncertainty. It appears to be that violence and war become a precondition to use as a rational for peace. However, peace without justice is a dream speech. Peace is always depends on justice—just-peace. As long as there profit in violence and war, it will continue to reinforce fear and anxiety upon us. A feminist activist Naomi Klein once observed, war generates profits, peace does not (2). We, WSCF-E should be vigilant and bold to speak out against all acts of terror associated with religions, and condemned those who legitimize it, profit from wars, and disrespect human rights and the rule of law.

Today, the increasing recognition of crucial role of the religious community, to facilitate and promote humanity, and for peace and harmony in a world terrorized by fear. So there is the need for a new vision—beyond the short term foreign and domestic policies imposed to us. We, WSCF-E must offer our resources and capabilities as a state actor to promote rule of law and human dignity. As Douglas Johnston at Cynthia Sampson argue, since religion associated with many international conflicts, states should understand and acknowledge the crucial role of the religious community as a missing dimension of statecraft, for example, in cultural diplomacy (3).

As the World Council of Churches stated that, at such time it is appropriate to point to the rich resources in religion which can guide us to peace and reconciliation [v]. The Church is called to be a community for such people and task. We, WSCF-E called to dialogue and manage our religious differences. We are not only aware of our religious difference but we try to cope those differences as well by investigation of the foundation of the religions. We understand each other through a daily life dialogue. We live out the culture of dialogue, it is a way of life. Thus, openness in religious differences does not mean one must abandon his or her faith tradition. Rather, openness to other faith traditions, means a brave and humble attitude to bring religious differences into contact with each other without destroying and marginalizing them. Through daily life encounter and sincere dialogue with them, we realize that God is also with them.

Photo source:

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“No peace among the nations
without peace among the religions.
No peace among the religions
without dialogue between the religions
No dialogue between the religions
without investigation of the foundation of the religions.”

― Hans Küng


Further Readings


[1] William T. Cavanaugh (2009). The Myth of Religious Violence: The Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. UK: Oxford University Press.

[2] Naomi Klein (2007). The Shock Doctrine. US: Pan Books Limited.

[3] Douglas Johnston at Cynthia Sampson (1994). Religion: The Missing Dimension of Statecraft. UK: Oxford University Press.
















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