Really Religious Violence

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban targeted a crowd of Christian children celebrating Easter:

In the comments section of my last post on religious violence we had a lively discussion about the causes of religious violence and to what extent they were genuinely religiously motivated. Such attacks as this one (which, alas, are not rare) plainly show the religious motivation of the hatred. The perpetrators promise more such attacks.

Politics, they say, makes strange bedfellows. We have an instance of that in the debate over religious violence. Two groups normally at opposite ends of the spectrum come together to deny that religious violence is really religiously motivated. On the one side you have conservative religious apologists who want to claim that religion, or at least theirs, is innocent of  inciting violence. I saw a title with Regnery Press–the ideological right’s publishing house–that said that Christianity is a religion of peace but not Islam. No doubt there are Muslim apologists who say the opposite.

The other group eager to deny the religious basis of violence is the politically correct left, the Ben Affleck types, for whom avoiding any taint of Islamophobia is the categorical imperative. They fear that any hint that Islamic terrorists are motivated by their interpretation of Islam verges on a blanket condemnation of the religion of 1.6 billion people. Publications of the ideological left insist that the violence has political and socio-economic causes and that Islam has nothing to do with it.

“Islam is a religion of peace” we are told over and over. Well, it seems to depend on whose Islam we are talking about. In Glasgow, Scotland a beloved Muslim shopkeeper, a member of the Ahmadi movement that teaches nonviolence and tolerance for other faiths, was apparently murdered for wishing his Christian neighbors a happy Easter:

Apparently, some Muslims believe that you should express benevolence to your neighbors of other faiths, and some Muslims believe you should be killed for doing so. Which is the “true” Islam? I would very much like to think that it is the former, and my Muslim friends and colleagues, who are as horrified as I by such events, would strongly assert that it is. But the horrible truth remains that some are willing to massacre a playground full of children to assert that it is the latter.

The fundamental and simple truth that seems to escape ideologues of both the left and the right is this: Good religion can do great good but bad religion can do great harm. Further, every major religious tradition encompasses elements that teach kindness, love and tolerance, and other elements that inculcate violence, vindictiveness, and intolerance. No amount of special pleading by religious apologists or self-righteous hand-wringing by pundits of the left can change this basic fact.