One of the difficulties that the Rochester interfaith groups face when trying to encourage peaceful dialogue is the images and memories of violent behavior: both past and present. While the communities in Rochester don’t often openly display any animosity to each other or the secular world they live in, we are still bombarded with images of religiously-inspired violence. Whether they are from conflicts in the Middle East and the Far East, or far right religious groups proclaiming damnation upon anyone who disagrees with their worldview.
More often than not, these people are minorities in their religious communities, who unfortunately for the majority, have loud voices. To defend their efforts and their reputation from these groups demanding sole attention, many more moderate, peace-minded people often say that extreme behaviors like honor killings, beheading, and familial abuse are the results of the culture that the religion lives in.
The logic works likes this: the religion itself may preach tolerance, acceptance, or non-violence, but then it is blended with a culture that hasn’t necessarily held such lofty ideals. What is useful is adopted, what is not is rejected or buried. There is some truth to this.
Christianity before Edict of Milan in 313 BCE had largely consisted of house churches and cells trying to be discreet, as to protect themselves from the occasional Roman persecutions, with many female house leaders. However after this agreement, the religion took on a whole different look, becoming louder, male-centered, more extravagant, and also less tolerant of other religions: as well as other variations of Christianity itself.
Islam is known to have come out of the Arabian Peninsula through the Prophet Mohammad’s leadership and guidance. According to moderate Muslim theologians, Mohammad only sanctioned violence in self defense, such as noted in the second Sura, 2:190:
“fight in God's cause against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits [in aggression]; God does not love transgressors"
It was only after infighting and schisms that occurred following the prophet’s death that Islam became the aggressive, conquest-minded religion that the world now largely knows it for.
Likewise, many Native American tribes often proclaim of how proud and earth-minded their spirituality is. Though not uniform among the many tribes, many feel that much of the variations regarding their beliefs revolved around harmony with nature and spirits. Violence, or extreme violence, was only incurred with the arrival of the Europeans. These apologetic views all have the same undertone:
‘don’t blame the religion, blame the culture’.
It goes without saying that a belief system that actively promotes violence as an acceptable practice is not well accepted today. In fact, it’s a quick way to get your belief discredited and marginalized. Emphasizing the benign aspects of your religion is definitely more beneficial for public relations. However, many religions cannot escape the acceptable violence in their texts or histories, whether it was culturally or religiously inspired.
Jesus taught love thy neighbor, but Moses and Joshua still actively waged a genocidal war during the conquest of Israel, never mind the later Crusades. Mohammad may have taught acceptance and defensive war, but he still mentions jihad, even if it depends on the variation and the context, and many Muslims carried out violence under that cry. Some Native American spirituality may have been about harmony, but there was still tribal warfare between groups that occurred long before the Europeans arrived and could be quite violent.
Considering culture’s role in the religious view and practice regarding violence is valid. Yet it does not invalidate the view that some people can logically view religion at times as violent.