Religion and Violence

Dr. Avalos is a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and the author of several books about religion. He is a former Pentecostal preacher and child evangelist. He has a Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. Avalos is an internationally recognized opponent of neo-creationism and the intelligent design movement, and is frequently linked to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist and proponent of intelligent design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007.

Dr. Avalos is a professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and the author of several books about religion. He is a former Pentecostal preacher and child evangelist. He has a Doctor of Philosophy in Hebrew Bible and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Arizona. Avalos is an internationally recognized opponent of neo-creationism and the intelligent design movement, and is frequently linked to Guillermo Gonzalez, an astrophysicist and proponent of intelligent design who was denied tenure at Iowa State University in 2007.

This post is a continuation of my learnings from the 2013 American Atheists Convention. The next speaker I will discuss is Hector Avalos, and his ideas on how religion can be a cause of violence.

I always brace a bit when the subject of religion and violence come up, as I have from time to time heard some hyperbolic statements about how all wars are caused by religion. Such statements are not true historically or in any other way, and Dr. Avalos made it clear that he was not proposing that all violence is caused by religion or that religion does always leads to violence.

With that being said, Hector rejects up front the claims of the moderately and liberally religious that the violent fanatics are not following a true form of their religion, on the basis that this is merely a faith-based claim and not grounded in any evidence. You could make just as valid a case to say that the more violent version of the religion is the true form, and that the peaceful members are hertics and hypocrites. It is a wonderful thing for religious believers to be peaceful, but this in and of itself does not prove that it is the ideas of the religion lead to their peaceful behavior.

The core idea of Hector’s talk is that when religious ideas cause violence, it is because they have created a scarce resource. Things like water, oil, and diamonds are normally what people think of as resources over which wars may be fought; however, the scarce resources created by religion are usually much more ethereal then any of those items. Here is a short list.

  • Salvation
  • Sacred Space/Land
  • Group privilege
  • Access to God’s will.

As an example of how violence can be caused around “access to God’s will,” read Deuteronomy 18:20.

But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I [God] have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

One has to wonder how would anyone else, not themselves being privy to what God might have spoken to this person, would know which prophets are true and which were lying. And of course anyone speaking in the name of one of those other gods was automatically out. And notice that the penalty against such people who spoke for God without proper authorization was the ultimate in violent acts. They will be put to death.

Dr. Avalos also cited a similar text from the Koran.

For an example of how sacred land can be a scarce resource over which the religious wage battle, one only needs to look at the current and ongoing situation in Israel/Palestine. The fact that rival religious groups hold sacred claims to the same land, on which they are therefore unwilling to compromise because the claims are sacred, is clear enough to demonstrate that religion can cause and perpetuate violence over such a scarce resource.

Salvation, at least as taught in non-Universalist Christian churches, is a scarce resource as it is considered vitally important to a person’s temporal and eternal well-being and is not evenly distributed. Christian teachings (which vary depending on the sect) teach that one must do and believe certain things in order to obtain it. One kind of example of violence brought on by belief in non-universal salvation can be seen in the behavior of certain parents who abuse or abandon their non-believing children. And not even necessarily because the parents don’t love their kids, but due to the idea that if the kids do not believe the parent’s religion they are in danger of eternal damnation if drastic and harsh measures are not taken by the parents. Even in less drastic situations, differences in opinion about religious claims can lead to tremendous amounts to hurt and anger. If it were not for such uncompromising and “sacred” claims about the ethereal and unknown, much suffering could be avoided.

In response to the ways religions can and do cause violence, Dr. Avalos recommends that we totally repudiate and reject any and all scriptures that advise or excuse violence, and not try to reinterpret them as the moderate and liberal religious do. For the record, I think he is right.

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7 thoughts on “Religion and Violence

    • I am aware that there are religious leaders, evangelicals among them, that preach peace and speak out against war. And I am glad of it. I am glad they choose to highlight the parts of the Bible that support peace and love rather than the parts that support war and violent retributions. And I am glad that they are a part of modern society that has been influenced by Enlightenment values.

  1. Salvation is an internal struggle…a personal thing and each of one of us have to work out our own…without passing judgement on others…it is not fighting to resist the world like so many think. You cannot take one part of the bible and use it for arguments…it is a developing story of God, His creation and the fall of man and his redemption. You can’t take a person who professes they are a Christ follower, then look at their sins and use it as some kind of argument. Is any of us without sin? imperfections? faults? God did everything he could to save us…pride comes…then the fall….every time…and we still want to be gods for some reason, yet we die and have no idea where we go? Does this not concern you? Is this all life is? Birth then death, constant struggle and loss? If I only believe in that which I can only see, touch, taste, smell, feel…I am automatically limited…I have no way of achieving anything outside of my limitations. Look at us…look at the human race on a global scale…we are all sick! Every last one of us, not one of us knows anything really…do you read philosophy? Metaphysics?

    ***reminder of comment removed as it is too long and it would be more appropriate for the commenter to get his own blog and post it there***

    • Hi lukewilson27, just so you know I have copied the remainder of your comment into a document and will read it when I have a bit more time on my hands. In the meantime, the ideal of salvation as a personal thing is not very relevant to the post above. Salvation as a “resource” leading to violence is only relevant to the way people do and have treated others differently on the basis of their religion and the perceived status of their salvation. Whether or not anyone SHOULD care or take action due to the salvation status of another person does not matter. They HAVE.

  2. Look, once again you are basing an arguement on assumptions that the religious are Christ followers…they are anything but that. Religion was torn apart by Jesus…it was the religious that crucified Him. WOW…that sparks alot of thought. Marinate on that fact for awhile.

    Base all arguements upon universally accepted truths such as A = A, A is not equal to B. A cannot be equal to A and at the same time be equal to B. Otherwise equality tears down and there is no logic and reason. Our logic and reason does not supersede our intuition, it leads to it. Study linguistics and youtube Noam Chomsky. You’re not as smart as you think you are. Please, I am not condemning you…I am not above you. I am just exposing the bullshit and leading you closer to strong debate based on the very foundation of our logic and reason given to us by Aristotle and Socrates and all the like minded folks.

    Sorry, it says speak your mind here… I apologize…apparently my mind doesn’t belong on your blog because you removed it and told me to get my own. Thanks for the freedom to speak my mind, that’s sarcasm.

    Everything I posted was very relevant to what you posted, it is just too complex for you to grasp, OR you do not want to grasp it. You don’t want to debate do you? You’re completely sold out and have no mind of your own huh?

    Where did you study? Are you educated? I’m not here to be above you, I’m here to share what I have learned. I am here to speak truth based on the what truth is starting with the very foundation of truth, where LOGIC, REASON, AND INTUITION come together in perfect unity. It’s all there Mikel, in those books on the shelves. Happy searching. There are those who see the BIG PICTURE, and there are those who have become imprisoned by the notion that our own logic and reason supersedes intuiton.

    • Claiming that “Christ followers” are not religious or are not following a religion is just false by any meaning of religion. My own educational background is not relevant to that point, but I have written about it in previous posts. At any rate, I doubt you’d be questioning my expertise in philosophy if I was a Christian or “Christ follower” as you put it. Do you think someone has to be an expert in philosophy to be a Christ follower, or do you see this only a requirement for atheists?

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