Many in our day and culture want to differentiate Christianity from Islam by saying the latter is currently a violence-prone faith whereas Christianity has largely left violence behind as a religious practice. We read frequently about Muslims killing one another over religious differences, and supposedly Christians have outgrown that sort of thing though it was admittedly a part of the church’s past. On the surface this contention seems valid. However, I think we tend to overlook the many ways Christian theology encourages violence in a general cultural context where we do not recognize the religious background to that violence.
We should be aware that Christianity and Judaism share a common theological thread based on the Bible. To a lesser extent, some will recognize the commonality between these first two world religions and Islam. For the purpose of this discussion, I’d like to focus on a worldview shared by Christians and Muslims. That worldview projects an on-going war between human forces for good and human forces for evil. These human warriors may be aided in this struggle by ultra human elements on both sides. The Bible for sure (and I suspect the Koran also) describes a divine being who operates ruthlessly in this struggle between good and evil.
Out of this mindset, adherents of both religions naturally come to view deadly force as not only a personal right but a divine imperative. Since what is evil is subjectively determined by each of us minute by minute, we are conditioned to contemplate violence against our fellowmen as a proper response to countless situations in our daily lives.
Someone cut me off in traffic or that person yelled an obscenity at me for some reason. I’d like to just shoot them. These kinds of thoughts permeate our brains daily. Why is that?
A knee jerk tendency to violence has become a conditioned response for many to everything and everyone they view as evil. The “evil” we most often identify are those words and deeds which offend us personally. Thus, perceived personal injustices trigger a lot of violence, which we don’t normally attribute to our religious tradition but probably should.
Now, most people manage to restrain themselves from acting out this visceral mental picture of violence, but all too often someone snaps under the influence of this violence-accepting culture, and we witness unaccountable carnage. In this way we experience here events which mirror what we describe elsewhere as religious terrorism.
After our own mass killings we usually hear that there is no discernible motive for what happened. Some want to declare the perpetrators to be purely evil, implying that concern for a motive is a waste of time. The contention is that purely evil people don’t need a reason to kill; they simply kill for the joy of it. All this assumption does is divert us from any attempt at really understanding our own violent tendencies.
One of the ancient Greek philosophers said that all men act according to what they perceived as right and just. That would include those actions which other men perceive as horrendously unjustified. That is the very nature of anything we define as necessary evil. My necessary evil is another man’s atrocity. That has been the case since the Garden of Eden. In other words, every evil is necessary in the mind to the perpetrator. That is all we need to understand about any act of violence. It has been justified in someone’s mind by the very concept of good and evil.