I want to offer a daring proposition that flies in the face of many if not most worldviews and religions. It does represent one of the deepest insights of both the Bible and the Calvinian branch of the Reformation, including its Kuyperian strand.
The Proposition: It is not religions that are inherently violent; it is the human race itself as a whole that is afflicted with a deep-seated streak of violence that is humanly impossible to eliminate and that is easily activated by that other (in)human(e) natural characteristic, lust for power, or provoked when under duress and threat.
I am not suggesting that every individual is inherently violent. There are millions of peace-loving individuals everywhere, espousing every religion and most worldviews. But the human race as whole has this streak, not as something superficial, but deep down in its very bowels. You cannot understand world, national or even more local history without acknowledging that fact.
That’s not the only thing to be said about the human race. Some great things can be said about us as well. The Bible uses very laudatory terms for us. Just one example: God has made every person a “little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You [God] made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet…” (Psalm 8:5-6). This is one important side of the coin of the human condition, but it does not eliminate its opposite, that deep-seated propensity for violence.
One of the roles of religion is to bring out that glory with which we have been created by chaining the brute within us. That has happened frequently and till today happens more commonly than most hostile or ignorant despisers of religion want to recognize or want us to believe. Like much of the modern media, those despisers prefer to cover up the positives by highlighting the negatives and then attribute them to religion. If love is blind, so is hate. The first nuclear bomb was not created or thrown out of religious fervor or out of love!
That being the case, we/I cannot avoid or cover up questions about religious wars and the involvement of religious folk in violence. I am going to pursue these questions in the next few posts, but I will insist that the basic problem does not reside in religion so much as it does in human nature.
I find it interesting and revealing that abuse in/by religion often evokes calls for the elimination of religion, but abuse in economics, politics, media, sports or art never leads to calls for eliminating those forces or sectors from human life. Then we call for better laws, improved morals or transformation of the structures, for we realize we simply cannot eliminate those sectors from human life. While I do not regard religion as simply another sector of human life—but that’s for a later discussion—, because religion seems more susceptible to emotion than other facets of life, abuse here easily provokes emotional calls for its abolition rather than reformation or revival. Responsible and rational people will lend their ear to and respect leaders of thought in economics, political science and other fields during times of crisis. These same people will often throw caution to the wind, totally disregard empirical research and facts, and with emotional and hateful fervor call for the abolition of religion. This reaction is usually the result of their instinctive pre-rational worldview rather than of rational and objective deliberation.
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