Franck GUYEN

When religions hurt - An Essay about the Religious Violence - About a French book

samedi 8 décembre 2018 par Phap

About the book in French «  Quand les religions font mal – essai sur la violence » - « When religions hurt – An essay about the religious violence ». Cerf Publishing Company, September 2018, 83 p., 14 €
The idea of this article is to incite a publishing company to publish this book in the English-speaking world.

The front cover is a detail from the Issenheim Altarpiece (1516) by Matthias Grünewald

This essay aims at denouncing violence when it turns to religion to justify itself.
From the Crusades to the Hindu nationalism, from the Witch-hunting to the Sarin Gaz attacks by the Japanese cult Aum, Franck Guyen is trying to understand how spirituality can inspire barbary.
Neither Buddha nor Jesus were brutal, so why strike in their names ?
A plea for peace, for the sensitivity to the other, for mutual respect and care.

Franck Guyen is a Friar of the Order of the Preachers. He is currently studying the religious fact and is teaching the Asian religious traditions in the Catholic Universities of Lille and Paris (France).

Table of content

INTRODUCTION : Violence as injustice


A human nature crossed by violence
The Middle-Age cruisades - When religion justifies war
The Inquisition – When religion shows intolerance
The witch -hunting – When fear of the Devil drives crazy
Was Buddha violent ?
When order is made sacred : hinduism
Aum, a Japanese new religious movement in the spiral of violence


The religious man - homo religiosus
The specific religious violence
You cannot judge !


When religion itself criticizes violence

CONCLUSION : God’s point of view

Preliminary warnings

Why this book ?

1§ I wrote this book out of astonishment. While the Dominican friars have just finished celebrating their 800 years old foundation, I was asking myself about the historical fact that their ancestors have constituted the majority of the servants of the papal inquisition during the Middle Ages. How could the disciples of a master who has been tortured and put to slow death on a cross have some « heretics » tortured and put to death by fire ?

2§ My surprise doubles when I see how the connexion between the founder of the Order of the Preachers, Dominic de Guzman, and the Inquisition has changed over time.
The Dominican Friars nowadays insist that Dominic could not have taken part in the Inquistion since he died ten years before Inquisition was instituted.
Yet the Order of the Preachers did not protest in the fifteenth century when the painter Pedro Berruguete depicted Dominic presiding over a auto-da-fe ; neither did it protest in the thirteenth century when a dominican bishop Jacobus de Varagine wrote in the Golden Legend that Dominic had stopped a cart loaded with heretics because he was divinely warned that one of the condemned persons would repent and convert.
These are the reasons which prompted me to write this essay.

Against what and for what ?
3§ This essay has no academic claim ; it does not contain any footnote nor bibliography [1].

4§ This essay fights against the idea that religion is intrinsically violent and that it is the cause of the worst divisions in mankind and of the most terrific wars. It also fights against the opposite idea which sees religion as a violence-proof reality and considers that the instrumentalisation of religion by politic is responsible for the violences committed in the name of religion.

Against both these positions which idealize religion in a way or the other, this essay gives a realistic approach of religion as a reality which is ambivalent just like any human reality [2] : as such, religion is crossed by the desire of communion, of peace, of harmony between men, and in the same time by drivings of aggressivity and death, to speak like Sigmund Freud.

5§ This essay also fights the relativistic position which forbids any moral judgment about violences in the past because it would project our present values in a time where the values were different. For instance, torture is condemned today but Middle Ages considered it normal, so condemning the inquistor from our present point of view is anachronistic.

6§ I argue on the contrary that there are moral universal laws, which means that these laws apply at any given time and in any given place and nobody is allowed to infringe on them.
The Golden rule is one of them, that states that you shall not inflict something to someone you woudn’t want him to inflict it on you.

7§ I state against the relativistic position that there is a universal solidarity between human beings. I am following the Latin playwright Terence during the second century before Jesus Christ who wrote : Homo sum ; humani nihil a me alienum puto - "I am a human being and I think that nothing human is alien to me " – or later in the twentieth century the afro-american Baptist minister Martin Luther King who wrote from inside his cell in a prison in Birmingham (Alabama, USA) : « Injustice somewhere is a threat to justice everywhere. ».

8§ According to this solidarity that I posit at the basis of any morale, any wrongdoing to the dignity of anyone, wherever and whenever it occurs, affects the whole mankind.

9§ The essay can be defined by its adversary positions but also by its positive confession of the inalienable goodness of the Creation. This religious aspect concludes an essay whch resorts mainly to human sciences (history, sociology, psychology, anthropology).

10§ For the Bible believer, the one he calls God is so confident in the goodness of his Word that he commits it in the world, taking the risk that it can be twisted – as it happened at the beginning of the Bible when the snake misquoted the divine word about what may be eaten and what may not be eaten in Eden : the snake attributes to God his own jealousy and duplicity.

The same pattern occurs at the end of the Bible when the Word-Made-Flesh is insulted and flouted and accused of the crime of lese-majesty against God and Caesar, and in the end is put to die on a cross.

11§ God entrusts the goodness of his Word which can cross the night of violence. He also entrusts the goodness of the human being who can act for the worst but also for the best.

Let us turn again to the beginning of the Bible and hear God telling Cain : « Beware, the wild beast is here, lying in wait at your door. Master it. ». If God says this, it means that Cain can resist the drive of violence, the jealousy, he can choose not to kill his brother.

In other words, if there is a drive to violence in the heart of man, it is not the only factor which determines the acts of a man who can be bigger than the ferocity and savagery he carries.

The limitations of the book
12§ - We pretend neither to address comprehensively the issue of the religious violence nor provide definitive answers to it. Were we to pretend something, it would be to set up guiding marks, either anthropological, sociological, historical or religious, to a question that binds together the sensitive areas of violence and religion.

13§ - The issue of the religious violence can trigger strong primary emotions – fear, hatred, anger -. This essay is not intent on playing on the reptilian brain complex which generates these emotions : we leave these rhetoric tricks to the tribunes and to those who want to hear them.

We will rather stand back from affectivity, even though we resort to it in the second part of the book, let us hope with discretion. According to us, the distance from affectivity is a prerequisite to avoiding the display of convictions which are all the more strongly asserted as they rest on a weak basis.

14§ We will go through the familiar ground of the western monotheism in its Christian version. To balance this supposedly well-known religious tradition, we will study the Asian religions of Bouddhism and Hinduism to broaden our scope.

15§ - In order to help the Muslim believers overcome their current crisis, it seems more relevant to us to show how other religions cope with the religious violence rather than to tell the Muslims from the outside why they don’t understand their religion and what they should do to remedy it.
That is why we will not address the Muslim religion in this book.

Thank you for your attention.

© fr. Franck Guyen op, december 2018

[1French sources in the article in French Quand les religions font mal - Les sources principales

[2Let us specify an important point : arguing that religion is a human reality does not exclude believing that another order expresses itself under this reality and through it and in it

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