Schwartz has two very proper insights. The first is that identity forged over against others is violent, because the “other” is always conceived as despicable. And the second is that sibling rivalry is in some way tied to the concept of a jealous monotheism with a scarcity of blessings for distribution.
Your first book was an examination of original sin — not, for most people, a topic connected with joy. But the title of the book is The Joy of Being Wrong. What joy is associated with original sin?
It’s the joy of not having to get things right. The doctrine means that we are all in a mess, no one more or less than anyone else, and we can trust the One who is getting us out of the mess, who starts from where we are. If it were not for the doctrine of original sin, which follows from the resurrection — just as a parting glance at who we used to be follows from seeing ourselves as we are coming to be — we would be left with a religion requiring us to “get it right,” and that is no joy at all.
My hypothesis is that “religion and violence” arguments serve a particular need for their consumers in the West. These arguments are part of a broader Enlightenment narrative that invents a dichotomy between the religious and the secular and constructs the former as an irrational and dangerous impulse that must give way in public to rational, secular forms of power.
What is torture for? Torture has a formative effect on the collective imagination of a society. It is, in the strict sense, a taboo. Its name must not be spoken, but its presence must be widely known, because it generates a special kind of collective imagination about us and about our enemies. Torture does not merely respond to enemies; it helps make them.
What is implied in the conventional wisdom that religion is prone to violence is that Christianity, Islam, and other faiths are more inclined toward violence than ideologies and institutions that are identified as “secular.” It is this story that I will challenge tonight. I will do so in two steps. First, I will show that the division of ideologies and institutions into the categories “religious” and “secular” is an arbitrary and incoherent division. When we examine academic arguments that religion causes violence, we find that what does or does not count as religion is based on subjective and indefensible assumptions. As a result certain kinds of violence are condemned, and others are ignored. Second, I ask, “If the idea that there is something called ‘religion’ that is more violent than so-called ‘secular’ phenomena is so incoherent, why is the idea so pervasive?” The answer, I think, is that we in the West find it comforting and ideologically useful. The myth of religious violence helps create a blind spot about the violence of the putatively secular nation-state.
My purpose in this essay will be to focus on the way revulsion to killing in the name of religion is used to legitimize the transfer of ultimate loyalty to the modern State. Specifically I will examine how the so-called “Wars of Religion” of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe are evoked as the founding moment of modern liberalism by theorists such as John
Rawls, Judith Shklar, and Jeffrey Stout.
A PROPOSAL: Let us stop fighting one another, for a season, about issues of sexuality, so that we can focus on what God is saying to the church about our complicity in the violence that is the deepest moral crisis of our time. And let us call the church to fasting and prayer in repentance for the destruction our nation has inflicted upon the people of Iraq.