The myth of religious violence

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 02, 2014

At CatholicCulture.org we grow weary of hearing so many people who should know better praise our secular institutions for saving us from the violence inherent in religious faith. Nonetheless, we “soldier” on, ministering to ignorance.

After all, it doesn’t take more than a cursory grasp of the military history of the twentieth century to realize that the secular narrative is utterly baseless. In fact, every European conflict from the French Revolution onwards gives the lie to this pervasive prejudice—not mention appalling secular ideological genocide.

However, the equation of religion with violence (and, mutatis mutandis, Christianity with Islam) is convenient for those who spend their intellectual lives rationalizing their refusal to submit themselves to a standard and a power higher than their own wills. The moral excuse-value of this myth, more than anything else, accounts for its persistence in the modern West against all the facts.

Fortunately, I don’t have to advance a prolonged argument about this. An excellent job has already been done by Karen Armstrong, writing in The Guardian just a week ago, on September 25th. I highly recommend Armstrong’s very readable essay, The myth of religious violence.

This is one of those things about which it really is impossible to protest too much. But it is still better if we do not have to say it ourselves.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Awed_by_Christ - Oct. 04, 2014 2:24 PM ET USA

    I found the post and Karen Armstrong's article deserving. But I was startled by no reference in the post or article to William T Cavanaugh's 2009 book ** The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict **. This book deserve more attention! Armstrong, a former nun and Islamophile, can be commended for promoting understanding among and of religious peoples. Yet more conversation and engagement with Christian and other voices is needed.