Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Today's religious wars

While discussing the mall attack in Nairobi and a church bombing in Pakistan this weekend a friend said "well, it's a religious war".  That aside gave me pause. 

Growing up in Canada in the 1960s the very concept of religious war seemed impossibly ancient. Yes, there was Northern Ireland and Israel's battles but those were easy to view as political or ethnic rather than religious disputes.  Northern Ireland divided up people along religious lines but almost no one ever was arguing over, say, the issue of transubstantiation. Similarly Israel could be seen as fighting hostile nations over traditional issues of land and resources.  Gamal Abdel Nasser was, of course, Muslim but his policies were not driven in an discernible way by religious fervour. 

Yet the terrorist atrocities of this past week - specifically the Pakistani church bombing and the Westgate Mall attack - cannot be seen except as religiously motivated. The segregation of Muslims in Westgate and the murder of Christian worshipers in Pakistan speaks to the motive. And the suicidal nature of the attacks in both cases speaks to the religious fervour. 

Perhaps the reason religious wars seemed so unlikely when I was a child was because religion itself was, at least for me, not very significant.  Certainly there were holidays celebrated and people were aware that Professor Aziz was Muslim or Dr Williams was Christian - but it really didn't make a whole lot of difference. 

Everyone I knew was of the view that, if there was a heaven, all good people got there and G-d was a rather gentle spirit of the universe who didn't really care much about the details of worship. Christian or Jew seemed a lesser distinction than, say, academic or businessperson.  

Sometime between the 1960s and the 1980s that rather colourless view of religion changed. I myself became religious and suddenly the details of faith began to matter. G-d actually cared about the forms. Now I never came to the view that those who worshiped differently were condemned but I could understand the urgent imprecations of evangelical friends who knew if I did not follow their way I was bound to hell. Their concern was bona fide - they wanted to save a friend from endless suffering. 

And it is but a step, albeit a big one, from wanting to persuade others to follow your god to actually using force to impose your god on others. 

There is the basis for religious war.  For now it seems to be mainly Muslims motivated to kill for religion. But other groups do so also and historically Christians have done so - religious attacks on Jews in Russia are just beyond living memory. I don't see Islam as being peculiarly violent. 

I deal daily with devout Muslims. On occasion we talk of religion; one have me a book presumably in hopes of converting me. But in all these discussions there is a sense of good faith. I suspect my Muslim friends would be delighted if I were to convert but there is no suggestion they would shun me or worse if I do not.  

But some are motivated by a desire to impose their faith on the world.  Most take steps to impose their will on other Muslims - and Muslims by far lead in the victims of the new religious wars. But whosoever they target as victims such people cannot be dealt with by "more education" as they are educated. Unfortunately they have to be defeated in battle. 


doconnor said...

The biggest religious conflict right now is between the Shea and Sunni Muslims. This seems to underlie much of the tension on the Middle East, with dislike of Israel on of the few things that units them. The Syria civil war is just part of it.

I was noticing recently the similarities between the Shea and Sunni conflict and the Catholic and Protestant conflicts in Europe's past.

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