For God's Sake
By Greg Schaber
It’s a cruel riddle. Virtually all religions teach tolerance and love. And yet, for centuries men of all religious backgrounds have committed unspeakable atrocities in the name of God. If Sept. 11, 2001, underscored the dangers of extremist views, it also revealed a deep, complex web of historical, political and economic factors that forces us to reexamine not only the world outside our own borders, but the uncharted territories of our own hearts as well, and to address once again an old question: Will we ever stop killing one another in the name of religion?
In search of perspectives on this question, we approached eight faculty members from four faith traditions—Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Hindu.
Joseph Bracken, S.J., Jesuit priest, professor of theology and former director of the Brueggeman Center for Interreligious Dialogue
My only answer would be we’ve got to change our concept of God. If the prevailing concept of God allows us to, commit violence to one another in God’s name, there’s something wrong with our concept of God. The Christian understanding of God is that of a God of love. We find the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Christ was explicitly non-violent. He refused to use violence to save his own life, and many theologians would argue that the most important revelation of the nature of God given to us by Jesus was his suffering on the cross, his self-giving love for others. Rather than exerting violence to overpower people, he was going to persuade them by total self-giving both to the will of his father as he understood it, and to assist his fellow human beings to overcome their passion for domination and control.
If you read the Gospel narrative, you’ve got the very best portrayal of a man of peace. And it is interesting, in the early Christian centuries, Christians did not serve in the armed forces of the Roman Empire. Some of that seems to have been pacifism, or something very close to it. Then when Christianity became an officially recognized religion, all of a sudden the bishops said, “Well, we’ve got to defend ourselves.” That’s not to say that they endorsed every kind of violence, but the just-war theory came out of a kind of linkage of church and state.
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