Religion and World Peace
Of all the causes of war and bloodshed down through history, probably no cause has been more common than one group of people invading or conquering territory already occupied by another group. And this has been going on so long that virtually no people on the face of the earth today, except a few aboriginal tribes, can say that their ancestors were not responsible, one way or another, for taking over land from someone else who was there first.
Likewise, while the radical solution for these long-standing territorial conflicts would be for everyone to return to their land of ethnic origin, this too would be virtually impossible: in fact, if we were to trace back, through DNA analysis, everyone’s genetic lineage, we’d probably discover that practically no one was
“pure” this or that and that we are all mongrels of a sort. In any case, if an injustice was committed, it is highly unlikely that it was committed by those who suffer the consequences today and who long for the wrongs to be righted, if not in their lifetimes, at least for their descendants.
So how break this chain of injustice and violence? It seems to me that at least a good first step would to be to quit glorifying it, especially in the name of God or religion. The prime example of this distortion of values is the claim that somehow, at least in the case of the invasion of Canaan by the Israelites, God sanctioned or commanded it to happen, even to the extent that God punished the Israelites for failing to entirely wipe out the former inhabitants — a claim that has had obvious consequences not just for the Middle East for a long time, but, especially today, even for the peace of the whole world.
One way to
accomplish this would be to admit what professional scripture scholars have
long suspected (and archeological excavations and even more recently, genetic
research have tended to confirm), namely, that the early historical books of
the Hebrew Scriptures (or what Christians call the Old Testament) are for the
most part legendary, and that the various tribes living in what was known as
the land of Canaan were not wiped out or displaced, but instead eventually
became a united Israel under the ideology of what amounted to a myth of
national origins. Subsequent history saw
repeated breaks up of this national unity, first into two rival kingdoms (
Either that, or if one were to insist that these books must be taken literally, then we would have to judge that what God supposedly commanded back then would now have to be considered an immoral and unjust act of aggression of the kind that the world can not afford to tolerate today. This would undercut any claim that religion can legitimately serve as a justification for the medieval Crusades, or as a model the European colonization of the Americas or of Africa and for what Americans once thought was their “manifest destiny”, or as a excuse for what some Islamic fundamentalists now consider to be Allah’s command to wage “Jihad”.
In either case, whether it be by reinterpreting the Old Testament or else finding its depiction of God’s will as unacceptable, it means that our understanding of God or at least of God’s will must be radically changed. Perhaps this is what Jesus was all about, and was why he was killed. If not, then religion, particularly the religions that look to the Bible for their origin, and which should be the source of reconciliation and understanding, will continue to be condemned — quite rightly — as one of the greatest obstacles to peace.