Another anniversary of the 9-11 New York City attack, the eleventh this year, is come and gone.
Since then, there have been hundreds of terrorist-related slayings and damages have affected cities all over the world.
Even now, questions are raised in such painful circumstances about the role of religion as a source of conflict.
The pervading sickness of ‘religious’ violence has multiplied in the last decades and has been gaining the attention of historians, sociologists, political scientists as well as scholars of religious studies.
Religious conflicts the world over, lately since the Iranian revolution of 1979, have evoked new challenges and spurred thinking about the role of religion in international political arenas.
Noted scholars continue to echo the dual sentiment that religion leads to war as well as to peace.
Some argue that religion is a source of conflict because it has an inherent tendency to promote violence.
Others opine that religion is a resource of peace, because “true” religion is peaceful. It is only in its deviant form that religion leads to violence.
Conflict is not something alien to religion only in recent times. It has been a feature of religions’ origins centuries ago.
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 the growth of violence and terror committed in the name of religion bring into relief the issue of religion’s dynamic relationship to violence.
One paradoxical question keeps arising: Why is religion a source of conflict?
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 agents.
Other scholars claim religion is prone to conflict because it produces a particular intensity of non-rational, irrational 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.
Thankfully, in recent years, there has been rising interest among scholars to engage in inter-faith conversations on how religion could be a resource of peace and be used in conflict resolution and peace building.
Exploring the role of religion in peace making and peace building is essential to the survival of religion itself.
The need for transformation of religion is not only urgent but crucial. There is a growing negative attitude towards religion these days.
The question is: How does religion create peace?
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, explore 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 needed to artfully promote the values of democracy.
Narayan Mitra is the pastor of Merritt Baptist Church.
The views expressed in this column don’t necessarily reflect those of the Merritt Herald and its staff. The Herald welcomes qualified writers with views on this or other faiths to submit their work to email@example.com, to be considered for publication.