Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Religion, Violence and Holy Wars

Pope Benedict XVI's recent speech about religion and violence included comments about the Prophet Mohammad by 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, who said everything Mohammad brought was evil "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

I make the following observations:
  1. The quotation was probably insensitive, and the point about religion and violence could have been made more generic.
  2. Christians are sensitive to blasphemy, just as Muslims are sensitive to criticism of Mohammad, but some societies and cultures react more violently than others.
  3. The Pope also said that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God". That is, it applies to Christianity (& other religions) as well.
  4. "Holy Wars" tend to be anything other than holy in their execution. We need only look at some of the events of the "crusades" to see that. Holy wars, whether called "Crusades" or "jihad" or any other name, are usually anything but holy.
  5. "Holy wars" are usually:
    * driven by some religious "goal" eg revenge (an unholy motivation)
    * promoted by some leader who uses religion to justify political ends
    * characterised by some religious reward (indulgences for sins committed in war!; promise to be met by a number of virgins at heaven's door ...)

In short, "holy wars" are almost always anything but holy, regardless of their "banner of justification".

The Analyst