Religions as peace makers or war mongers – From « them like us » to «  us against them  »

mardi 9 août 2016 par Phap

French text : see Les religions facteur de paix ou de violence - Du "eux comme nous" au "nous contre eux"
Our conclusion to a 2015-2016 university course in the Institut catholique de Paris.


Introduction – The three basic tenets
1. The religious experience leading to inclusion - « them like us »
2. The religious formulation leading to differentiation – « They are different from Us »
3. The perverting of the religious form leading to exclusion - « Them against Us »

A conclusion from a Christian point of view

Introduction – The three basic tenets

1§. Tenet #1 : religions can lead to love and to hate depending upon the interpretative glasses one chooses to wear. For instance in the Gospels I can choose to read « Who is not against us is with us » [1] or I can choose to read : « Who is not with me is against me » [2].

2§. Tenet #2 : both tendencies are present in religions but neither to the same extend (quantitative difference) nor to the same level (qualitative difference) : the basic experience in any religion is a loving one. Hatred comes second when the religion lets itself be transformed into a tool by the desire to possess and to dominate or by the aggressive instinct.

3§. Tenet #3 : when instrumentalized in such a way, religion loses its integrity and consistency. History teaches us that religion was used to demonize people in order to justify the attacks and the oppression against them but the powerful had to pervert the religion, to bend it in order to achieve this result.

4§. We are going to use these three tenets in the following anthropological model. This model can be improved.

1. The religious experience leading to inclusion - « them like us »

5§. The religious experience is an existential one consisting in a bonding force which (re)connects vertically (what stands above me, the heaven) and horizontally (what stands at the level of my eyes, the earth).

6§. For instance I am walking on a country lane during a clear and quiet night. Then I raise my eyes and I discover myself under the celestial vault dotted with stars. I feel as if I am immersed, as if I am attracted by a dizzying force which makes the ground vanish under my feet.

7§. Then I lower my eyes. The world is seemingly the same and yet everything has changed. Everything is put in perspective with the reality from above that I realized at a rare and special time.

8§. The (re)connection contains a vertical dimension which is twofold : height and depth. I stand under the Other One (transcendance) and I stand in the Other One (immanence).
The (re)connection is also horizontal : I feel a communion with everything living under the sky and I say : « Me with them », « We », alltogether under the same sky and subordinated to it.

9§. The other (small « o ») one is recognized like me and he becomes a subject of rights towards whom I have duties – then we arrive to the Golden Rule with a religious justification : not to harm, not to do evil to the other one just like I would like the other one wouldn’t harm me or do me evil - and in a positive way : to do good to the other one as I would like the other one to do me good.

2. The religious formulation leading to differentiation – « They are different from Us »

10§. I suggest we make a distinction between the religious experience and its articulation into culture and history.

11§. The religious experience crystallizes into specific cultural and historical forms : the existential experience of Christ expresses itself in Christianity, the existential experience of Buddha in Buddhism, and so on.
These forms draw their legitimacy from being able to transmit the original experience which goes on living in them, through them, under them [3]

12§. These specific forms convey identity markers allowing groups to constitute themselves by difference with the surrounding environment. These forms draw some frontiers which designate the ones inside : « us » and the ones outside : « them ».
The question is now the status the insiders confer to the outsiders [4].

3. The perverting of the religious form leading to exclusion - « Them against Us »

13§. The cultural and historical forms can be instrumentalized by the group vying for self-assertion, self-exaltation against the outside or even at the expense of the outside. « They are different from us » deteriorates into « they are inferior to us » or « they are against us ».

14§. The derived religious legitimation makes it easier to abuse the others while keeping a good conscience. The abuse can take many forms :

  • keeping « them » on the territory but
    • compelling « them » to become like « us »
    • milking « them », robbing « them », humiliating « them »
  • by driving « them » out of the territory
  • by driving « them » out of the territory of the living – by killing « them »

And you can do this while thinking you don’t trespass the Golden Rule.

15§. In fact these religious forms have been distorted by being disconnected from their reference, the religious experience, and by being referred to group strategies of self-assertion, self-glorification, self-aggrandizing at the expense of the others – and at the bottom of all this, at the expense of the Other One : the Bible calls this idolatry.

16§. These strategies bring artificial exaltations and illusionary omnipotence to the group, they provoke humiliation, suffering, resentment and death to the other groups – and in the end to the group itself when it can no longer feed its self-illusions – when reality gets it.

A conclusion from a Christian point of view

17§. Our anthropological model aims at accounting for the potential for peace and for violence inside religions. We are now leaving this « neutral » ground to listen to a specific religion, Christianity.

18§. The question reads like that : how does the Christian religion cope with the universal anthropological data of the human tendency towards aggression [5], to convert it into kindness toward the other human beings, toward oneself and toward other living beings more generally speaking.

19§. Christianity offers its specific answer : Christ is the transforming factor, he is the catalyst as Paul said [6] :

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us ;
Having abolished in his flesh the enmity,

even the law of commandments contained in ordinances ; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace ;
16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby :

20§. Christ appears to be the effective sign of the inclusive love of the Father for his Creation : Jesus’ flesh which has been crucified by men in the name of religion (he has committed blasphemy according to the Jewish religious authorities) and in the name of politics (he has usurped the title of king according to the Roman authorities) has been exalted by God : it is now the means through which the Father reconciles the world.

21§. This reconciliation by the crucified and resurrected flesh is twofold :

  • horizontally (the world is reconciled with itself)
  • vertically [7] (the world is reconciled with God).

22§. The Christian way of things has two powerful images to transmit its vital experience of the reconciliatory flesh of Christ : the Cross and the Eucharistic table.
The historical body of Jesus which has been delivered to the cross is now unfolding in the sacramental body of the wine and the bread of every Eucharistic table, building the mystic body of Christ day by day.
We mean by mystic body the Creation transfigured, freed from evil and death, and at last able to stand trustfully and lovingly in the presence of its Creator.

Thank you for your attention.

©, juin 2016 (for the French text)
©, August 2016 (for the English text)
© fr. Franck Guyen op, August 2016

[1Mark 9, 40

[2Matthew 12,30 – Luke 11,23

[3We are not saying that chronologically there is first the religious experience and then its crystallization. According to us, any human being experiences the religious experience inside his specific form of life as a human being, that is to say as a being in culture.
The religious experience is anchored in a culture and a history which predate it and in which it makes sense. This sense altogether continues and breaks the cultural and historical data.
In other words, the religious experience and its cultural and historical expression come together and it cannot be otherwise : Quidquid recipitur, secundum modum recipientis recipitur wrote Thomas of Aquinas in latin [Theological Sum q. 75 a. 5 crp ; q.76 a. 2 arg. 3 ; q. 79 a. 6] : " Whatever is received is received in the manner of the one that is receiving".

[4And the other way round : what is the status conferred by the outsiders to the insiders. Our model constitutes a first approximation of a complex interactive reality

[5Homo homini lupus, « man is a wolf to another man » : a Latin saying quoted by Sigmund Freud in his work Unbehagen in der Kultur - Civilization and Its Discontents (1929)

[6Ephesians 2,13-16

[7let us remember that verticality means height and also depth

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