MITRA: Can religion create peace?

By on September 5, 2017
Narayan Mitra is the pastor of Merritt Baptist Church.

Next week, it’s back to the anniversary of 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and other key installations in the United States.

Though the intensity of anniversary ‘celebrations’ have waned over the years, the memories of the dastardly terrorist attacks have not.

Presently, with the recent happenings on the Korean peninsula, the world is waiting with bated breath about the possibility of bone-chilling disasters.

In our own province of B.C.., the raging fire season this year has produced much discomfort, fear, and even tears to those whose lives have been nervously affected.

Some churches have been led to keep their doors open for people to come, talk, and seek God’s intervention in the form of drought-quenching rains.

Questions are raised, as always in painful circumstances, about the role of religion as a source of peace and comfort.

On one hand, the pervading ‘sickness’ of religious violence has increased in the current era and has been gaining the attraction of historians, sociologists, political scientists, as well as scholars of religious studies.

In particular, the last 50 years or so have seen a rise in Jewish-Muslim, Hindu-Muslim, Hindu-Christian, and, in the latest instance, even Buddhist-Muslim animosity in border areas of Myanmar.

Religious conflicts in other parts of the world have evoked new challenges and spurred thinking about the role of religion in the international political arena.

Noted scholars continue to echo the dual sentiment that “religion brings war, religion brings peace.”

Some scholars argue that religion is a source of conflict because it has an inherent tendency to promote violence.

Others argue that religion is a resource of peace. Still others contend that “true” religion is peaceful. It is only its deviant form that leads to violence.

Conflict is not something alien to religion only now. It has been a feature from its origin.

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A provocative and notorious theory alleges that religion is the central characteristic of civilization, suggesting that religion is a dominant engine of violence.

Religious resurgence and growth of violence and terror, committed in the name of religion, bring into relief the issue of religion’s dynamic relationships.

One paradoxical question keeps arising: why is religion a source of conflict?

The answer often given is because religion appears to be absolute, divisive, and insufficiently rational.

In When Religion Becomes Evil, Charles Kimball defines religion as that which “evokes a wide variety of images, ideas, practices, beliefs and experiences — some positive and some negative.”

He espouses the theory that religion is a central feature of human life. We all see many indications of it every day and we all know it when we see it.

Kimball concludes that religious convictions, locked into absolute truths, can easily lead people to see themselves as God’s agent.

Its followers are then emboldened and capable of violent and destructive behaviour in the name of religion.

However, he does not present convincing arguments which distinguish religious violence from secular violence.

Also, his definition of religion does not clearly point out what does and does not qualify as “religion.”

He ignores other kinds of nationalism, despite acknowledging that blind religious zealotry is similar to unfettered patriotism.

Other scholars claim that religion is prone to conflict because it produces a particular intensity of non-rational passion that is not subject to the firm control of reason.

Various words such as “rage,” “passion,” and “fanaticism,” are often used to describe the mental state of religious actors driven to conflict and violence.

In recent years, there has been rising interest among scholars to engage in conversation on how religion could be a resource of peace and be used in both conflict resolution and peace building.

Historian Scott Appleby says that religion has two faces. It is a powerful medicine, but its driving passion can be and is used in the service to peace as well as inciting violence.

He contends that religion has an ability to sustain cycles of violence beyond the point of rational calculation and enlightened self-interest.

On the other hand, he says, religious fervour — unrestrained religious commitment — does not necessarily lead to violence.

The question, then, is: How does religion create peace?

An analysis of theories of religious violence opens the door for strategies that would help ensure religions can be harnessed for peace making as opposed to the absolute, divisive, and irrational markers and influences that have enabled inter-group violence, war and conflict.

Several strategies for transformation of religion into a force of peace can be suggested.

First, the pursuit of dialogue among religions can be an influence. The call for dialogue is the need for education within various faith traditions.

Second, the strategy of fostering economic development, especially as it benefits the poor and the marginalized in any religious society.

Religion is powerfully conditioned by the underlying economic and political environments in which all human life remains deeply rooted.

Third, the strengthening of democracy on both national and local levels is necessary.

Along with economic development, there is a great need to artfully promote the values of democracy.

Religion can be an effective source of conflict and, at the same time, a resource of peace in motivating believers toward tolerance and peaceful acceptance of others.

 

Narayan Mitra is the Pastor of Merritt Baptist Church at 2499 Coutlee Avenue, Merritt. You can reach him at merrittbaptist@gmail.com.

One Comment

  1. glen rutherford

    September 13, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Conflict is often caused by religious or racial groups having differing ideals and Philosophy. As time moves forward and people become more educated they dont usually really think that praying for rain will actually have an effect on weather patterns because they understand more about the physics that influence weather patterns.

    One thing religious associations have done historically are to act as a community center, so for example you helped a lot of people out in their time of need due to the issues caused by the fires. I think these people would then be thankful for the church community in being an organization that helped them. Whether or not they choose to follow religion or if this help played a significant role in altering their beliefs seems less important (to me).

    the community involvement has a positive impact and everyone is free to believe what they wish about “gods”

    Its nice to see the church playing a humanitarian role. It makes me wonder how many who aren’t so caught up in these beliefs still respect the church for helping bring people together to actually make a difference for the community at large. I think that things like that help people respect the church community even though they not believe in a particular “god”

    with modern travel we are creating a melting pot and you see that more here than in some areas where immigration hasn’t affected population so much. as people of different religions and races work together more we tend to put the differences aside and view each other as equals.

    Hopefully Canada can eventually realize that having different tax rules and laws based on ancestry is not a good thing and hopefully one day this will result in All Canadians being treated equally by the law. some laws were created with the Conception of our government which provide different sets of laws for natives and non natives and this also causes prejudism and prejudism causes conflict.

    We have a long way to go before all Canadians are treated equally under Canadian law irregardless of skin color but hopefully we will all see steps toward a better and more equal future in our lifetimes.

    The members of the church who made a positive impact on those affected by fires should be commended for their helpfulness.

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