The Destructive Power of Religion

Review of Series By:  Wendell Krossa

Ellens affirms that much about religions is behind so much violence.   People in all sorts of situations respond with violence because human consciousness  has long been shaped by such response as the solution to problems.  Any given person acting violently may appear to be responding to some immediate, unique situation, but that derives from a larger historical background of conditioning the human consciousness with embedded ideas of violence in deity as the  model for human response and behavior.

Ellens and his contributors are wrestling with why religion has long been behind so much violence.  I am reading one contributor now, an Evangelical who honestly asks why a religion that promises peace has so often brought violence.  This is good honest grappling with a fundamental problem.  We may disagree with the details of their proposed analysis and solutions but they are getting to the roots of something everyone is concerned about.  ISIS just brings all this into sharp focus today.

Christopher Hitchens on YouTube argued that religion was behind all violence and evil in life.  It seems a bit excessive to blame religion so comprehensively, but as you read Ellens, you see that Hitchens may have been right on.  It is about those core themes, long ago embedded in our subconscious that are still there shaping human emotion, response and action.  They may be secularized over time, but the core is there- violence to solve problems; an eye for an eye; apocalyptic dualism and destruction.  Even Ellens appreciates that apocalyptic is the big problem behind all this.  People today react instinctively, resorting to violence, unaware of that embedded core that influences how they feel, view life, and respond.  Much contemporary media re-enforces the old core (movies, video games, and all the rest as Ellens notes).

We can have a role in this movement by focusing more clearly on the solution, just as old as the problem.   Non-retaliation, non-violence and unconditional treatment of all.   Let this replace the old core themes and shape a new story of liberation and authentic humanity.  It’s about thoroughly cleaning out all the old and replacing it with a new core theme.  Something that  will then radiate out to change everything for the better.

One contributor notes that Girard ends with a kind of moral influence theory of the death of Jesus, and partly ransom theory.  He believes Jesus is divine because only a God incarnate could offer himself to suffer as a scapegoat to show us that responding violently does not solve anything.  Only a God could reveal to us that we vanquish violence without violently resisting it, and in this any Satan is defeated.

Ellens continues with his main point- that our ancient religious metaphors create negative psychological archetypes at our centers.  These inflame our prejudices.  He sees the answer in grace and unconditional positive regard for the other.   This message has been muddied by the notion that the world is an arena of an apocalyptic cosmic conflict between good and evil.  This useless metaphor justifies our worst prejudices and most destructive behavior, he says.  It does not let us become fully human.