The war between violence and peace

Scott Appleby, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, delivered the first 2010-11 Seminar on Religion
and World Civilization address last night at Clowes Memorial Hall.

Appleby’s lecture was titled, “Religion as Promoter of Peace, Perpetuater of Violence.”

He began his lecture by presenting three terms: religion, conflict and peace building.

He then defined what they meant individually, and questioned what their dynamics were when brought together.

“Religion is a major source of heavy conflict in the world because of violence, terrorism and extremism,” Appleby
said. “But it is also a less publicized but equally powerfully and compelling movement for a set of ideas and practices that help build humanity.”

The challenge, Appleby said, is understanding how it can be both.

Appleby said that the problem and ultimately the confusion regarding religion is that it is made up of both peacemakers and violent extremists.

Appleby said that what exists is two extreme types of people. He calls these extremists “militant believers,” because they are willing to put their lives and the lives of their families at risk to carry out “God’s will.”

The mistake, Appleby said, is to assume that all of these militants are violent, explaining that some are militants who are “willing to go to the edge for peace building,” but that they are just as much militants in that they are willing to give up their earthly life in the name of their cause.

Appleby used terrorists as an example of violent militants and then cited Mahatma Ganhdi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as militants of the peaceful nature.

Appleby said one explanation for the opposite extremes that arise out of religion is that religions are ultimately, “internally plural.” “It’s easy to say that Christianity says this, and Islam says that, and Judaism says that and Buddhism says that,” Appleby said.

“But there is no such thing as Christianity, or Islam, or Buddhism. There are Christianities, and Islams, and Buddhisms and Hinduisms, but the fact is religion is ultimately a contest.

“The fact is more Muslims are being killed today by other Muslims than anyone else. They are contesting the meaning of God, the meaning of justice and the meaning of liberation.”

Appleby said there are numerous points of view and observations about each religion that date back generations and that is what makes each sect so full of believers of the same God and religion who have different interpretations of
their sacred text.

It’s hard to pin down who is right or wrong in the debate, Appleby said, because there are no databased claims to support any of the arguments being made.

“All religions have apocalyptic themes that can be construed to legitimate violence if the situation calls for it,” Appleby said.

Appleby said in the Bible’s book of Matthew, Jesus says, “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

This phrase contradicts the messages of peace by which many Christians feel the Bible tells them to live their lives.

So what ultimately remains then? Appleby said what it boils down to is a spectrum of beliefs about the same ideas: there are those who advocate for peace, but reap violence in times of necessity and feel it is wrong, and there are those who feel violence is a necessary at all times.


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