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Myths of Religious Violence

Vinoth Ramachandra’s recent book, Subverting Global Myths, is a tour de force on the major global issues facing our world. Ramachandra offers six interesting chapters which attack, head-on, standard accounts of the modern Western mythos that governs our age. He deals with myths of terrorism, religious violence, human rights, multicultralism, science, and postcolonialism. In each case he does the hard work of looking seriously and circumspectly at the global issue in question rather than allowing certain forms of jingoistic rhetoric to define how we understand such phenomena. This is an incredibly crucial theological task. The kind of historical specificity and engagement that Ramachandra brings to our evaluation of things like terrorism and religious violence is badly needed in a world that too often trades in empty slogans, spun by ideologues.

In the process, Ramachandra is just incredibly insightful in the perspective he brings to certain key issues. Take for example, these quotes in which he is taking to task the notion that religious is the “cause” of violence:

“Consider the following analogy. Given the universality of sexual experience, it is hardly surprising that this powerful human drive should also be the site of rape, pedophilia, bestiality, genital mutilation and other grotesque acts. most of us woudl regard these acts as twisted perversions of a healthy and important part of our human identity and flourishing. (Indeed, we have been taught by feminists that rape is primarily about power, not sexual pleasure.) Why not apply the same reasoning to religious faiths? Given the universality of religious experience, it is hardly surprising that certain acts of grotesque violence should not only occur in religious communities but be imbued with religious meanings and justification.” (p. 79)

“Christians of all people, should be least surprised by the phenomenon of religious violence. At the heart of Christian faith stands a cross, an instrument of torture, degradation and mass execution. Orthodox Christian theology has always insisted that the one who was crucified at the instigation of the religious leaders of his society was no less than the incarnate Son of God. A God who has chosen to be vulnerable to suffering and death cuts away the ground from beneath an atheism of protest, because protest atheism envisages God as a cruel tyrant who manipulates people and moves them around like pieces on a chessboard. It also cuts away the ground from beneath every form of religious theism that seeks to co-opt God in the service of a political ideology.” (p. 82)

Ramachandra’s book represents the best of Christian social criticism. A profound understanding of Christian theology and the global realities that are shaping our world. Ramachandra is neither an alarmist, an ideologue, or a sectarian. Rather, he is simply a Christian who is willing to do the hard work of engaging in thick description and careful critique of the dangerous myths which shape the current global order. His book should be commended to all of us interested in forming a Christian way of understanding and being in the contemporary world of culture and power.

6 Comments

  1. Nathan Smith wrote:

    I see “religious persecution” is a myth that is prevalent in America, and it is played both ways:

    Some atheists are convinced that fundamentalist Christians are taking over America and soon scientists, professors, and gays will find themselves imprisoned or worse.

    Some Christians are convinced that radical atheists are taking over America and soon pastors, deacons, and bishops will find themselves imprisoned or worse.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2008 at 12:40 pm | Permalink
  2. mike d wrote:

    Nathan,

    Both groups Christians and atheists, I think , justify their concern by focusing on different sectors of our culture.

    Christian look at media, entertainment, pop culture and to some extent political power and don’t see their values reflected, hence their concern.

    Atheists look at midwestern America, all those churches on every corner, the fact that religion doesn’t seem to be waining and to some extent political power and don’t see their values reflected.

    Halden,

    One of the most interesting things about Ramachandra, if I remember correctly, is that he has a Phd in nuclear physics. – go figure.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 4:35 am | Permalink
  3. kim fabricius wrote:

    Thanks, Halden, for the heads-up. The book is a must-read for Yanks and Europeans. Ramachandra is a lay theologian from Sri Lanka, incredibly well-read, a fecund, subtle, and radical observer and thinker who demonstrates how (as Janet Soskice put it) “the truth looks different from here.” And he’s so uplifting.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 6:40 am | Permalink
  4. John R wrote:

    I’ve enjoyed some of his other stuff. Thanks for the shout.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 7:14 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, Mike that’s right. Weird.

    Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 9:53 am | Permalink
  6. Phil Sumpter wrote:

    I posted a fairly detailed review of Meic Pearse’s The God’s of War, which also deals with the issue. He considers the current secular war against faith and meaning to be a major cause of violence in the world. It’s particularly useful for its detailed historical analyses.

    Monday, September 8, 2008 at 5:23 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Violence and Religion « Just Within the Territory of Grace on Friday, September 5, 2008 at 8:46 am

    [...] http://inhabitatiodei.wordpress.com/2008/09/03/myths-of-religious-violence/ [...]

  2. September Books « On Journeying with those in Exile on Friday, October 3, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    [...] array of scholars represented on the back of the book, and from other bloggers I respect (like Halden and Christian). So, despite my far too long list of ‘books to read’, I decided to bite [...]

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