All Religions Support Peace. And Violence.

Amitai Etzioni, Professor of international relations at George Washington University, authored a column on the Huffington Post today that makes it clear that no religion is purely peaceful or purely violent. As we attempt to bring the principles of interspirituality into our daily living and communication with one another, this is an important idea to keep in mind.

Prof. Etzioni offers numerous mutually contradictory passages from the Quran that encourage tolerance and peace, on the one hand, and violence and retribution against unbelievers on the other. He points to similar contradictions in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, where the God of the Jewish Scriptures (aka the Old Testament) often presents a fierce and violent face and where Jesus describes himself as a leader who has come to turn family members against one another and, in the Book of Revelation, is reported to describe himself as a “wrathful conqueror.” (Never mind that these citations from the Bible are somewhat inaccurate and non-contextual; the same may well be true of the passages from the Quran.) It has often been stated, in one form or another, that you can find a Biblical text to support almost any position you want to take. I would be shocked if the same weren’t true for the Quran. Or for that matter of the Bhagavad Gita.

When I read of Hindu nationalists bringing violence to Muslims throughout India and of Buddhists attacking people who are culturally different and advocating violence in defense of Tibet in its conflict with China, I often find myself bewildered because it seems to me the basic teachings of those paths’ founders fly in the face of such behavior. And yet…

It is important, then, for us to understand the cultural, historical, political, social and theological/spiritual foundations behind and under the many religious traditions before we paint any or all of them with too broad a brush. There are Christian and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist pacifists. There are also Christian and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist warriors who undoubtedly believe their positions are both sanctioned by their holy writ and encouraged by their founders. None of this should trigger in us any feelings about the nature of the underlying spiritual teachings; it is in their interpretation and application that the teachings sometimes take what clearly seems like a wrong-headed turn.


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