Saturday 3rd July 2021 23rd Tamuz 5781
Numbers 25:10 – 30:1; Jeremiah 1:1 – 2:3; John 2:13-22
by MARC GARY, executive vice chancellor emeritus, JTS
In the Face of Violence, a Covenant of Peace
Karen Armstrong, the scholar of religion and popular author of such works as The History of God, relates that wherever she travels, she is often confronted by someone—a taxi driver, an Oxford academic, an American psychiatrist—who confidently expresses the view that “religion has caused more violence and wars than anything else.”
This is quite a remarkable statement given that in the last century alone, tens of millions of people have been killed in two world wars, the communist purges in the Soviet Union and its satellites, and the Cambodian killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, none of which were caused by religious motivations.
This is not to say, of course, that religion has failed to play a significant role throughout history in the instigation of wars or the perpetration of individual acts of violence. History is replete with such examples from the Crusades, to the massacre at Hebron by Baruch Goldstein, to the killing and maiming of abortion providers by fundamentalist Christians, to acts of terror committed in the name of Islam.
Those of us who take religious life seriously and who see its fundamental values expressed in concepts of love, justice, and human dignity cannot help but feel both disgusted and defensive about this history of wars and violent acts undertaken in the name of religious conviction even if our secular friends and neighbors tend to impose disproportionate blame on religion for the world’s woes.