What is the saddest truth about Christianity

Religion and violence

The problem

How could Christianity, which has no code of honor in its founding writings and categorically rejects violence against one's neighbor, be brought into connection with what it rejects most vehemently? How could the words of the Sermon on the Mount become the scriptures of the Crusaders without this contradiction shaking society? How could aristocracies based on blood ties and the compulsory duties of serfs vis-à-vis the body owner allow a liturgy that in the Magnificat daily promised that the mighty would be overthrown and the lowly exalted? For Christians who take the New Testament seriously, the facts of Christian history represent a moral problem. For sociologists, however, these facts are no problem at all, since the requirements of power depend on the situation and type of society and the religious patterns as they are in ideology ruling elites have entered, bend and bend. Political necessity will override a gospel that speaks out against violence and renounces worldly possessions and only usurps those images and passages of the Holy Scriptures that serve its own purposes.

With that I have already given the answer to my initial question, which, however, hardly has a chance of being accepted, as it crosses over with powerful ideological narratives, those of you essential Assume a connection between religion and violence. One can hardly expect western intellectuals to give up these narratives, as they offer an inexhaustible source of self-righteousness and self-praise. So my first question about the relapse of Christianity into violence springs from my second: Why does such a large part of Western intelligentsia continue to spread an ideologically charged representation of the tension between religion and violence, even though this does not pose a fundamental problem? If we disregard sheer malice and intellectual incompetence, the only explanation is the reluctance of scientists and publicists to understand the problems and practices of sciences that do not design missiles or manipulate genes.

The obvious answer to my first question lies in the variable relationship of Christianity to particular historical situations, specific forms of social organization, and different types of power. One cannot treat Christianity's relationship to war and violence as a constant. Any proposition about Christianity, let alone religion, is prone to verbal sleight of hand, ideological bias, and circular reasoning.

The answer to my second question about the dominance of ideological narratives is more complicated and less easy to convey. These narratives, which claim normative validity and are so useful and emotionally satisfying for Western elites, and to which any sociological understanding of the relationship between religion and violence is alien, must even be placed in the context of historical struggles for ideological supremacy, especially in France.

Unsurprisingly, these narratives seem even more obviously true than my plausible sociological answer. What intelligent person would forego cheap rhetoric that would allow the remnants of Christian culture to be scourged in the name of the cause of peace on earth, scientific truth and public virtue and to demand their final disposal? Who would discard such a simple and moral pathos answer to a contentious question, only to lose oneself in an inconclusive and uncertain investigation, in a social science discipline for which today's fighters for the truth have little understanding or respect?

Context is everything, at least almost. There are two criticisms of Christianity. One rejects Christianity because it is politically passive and quietist and therefore indifferent to the military and civil virtues in defense of the community and the right of citizens to violently resist the tyrant. The other criticism rejects Christianity because it has the chronic tendency to support aggressive wars - be it for the sake of “Christian culture”, be it in the name of denominational states like Poland or Sweden or Christian defined nations like the USA - exceeding the requirements of legitimate defense. The question of why there are two contradicting criticisms leads us to the answer: whether Christianity is rejected as too aggressive or too passive depends on whether it is defined as the ideological mainstay of a culture or a nation-state, or as an attribute of an independent one Religious community.

In the case of the Roman Empire, Christianity could be derived from enlightened rationalism, for example from Edmund Gibbon in his Decline and fall of the Roman Empireto have left the defense of civilization against barbarism to others. In the case of the warring city-states of the Renaissance, the peaceful enclaves of Christian monasticism could be denounced by the prince for shirking their civic duties. In today's developing world, some varieties of Christianity, such as the Pentecostal movement, can be accused of failing to take up arms against oppressive regimes by the same people who in other contexts accuse Christianity of being too readily inclined to legitimate violence. According to the Chilean sociologist Claudio Véliz, a large number of women in Latin America were dissatisfied with the irresponsible macho behavior of their husbands and felt drawn to the Pentecostal movement, because it replaced the violent life on the street with the model of peaceful table community. Some men were only too relieved to be domesticated and able to mothball their Kalashnikovs, thus realizing Isaiah's peaceful vision of turning spears into pruning knives. Different narratives about Christianity and violence arise from different historical and cultural contexts. These change in the transition from a pagan empire to the Catholic cultures of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance or from the early modern confessional state to transnational communities, as embodied by the Pentecostal movement. A serious discussion of religion and violence therefore requires systematic, cross-cultural comparisons, but these are almost completely absent from the contemporary debate.

My discussion revolves around the emergence of an aggressive “new atheism” that prefers the negative narrative to the positive, from a “scientific” point of view that defies all norms of social science inquiry. Therefore I am compelled to consider the difference between statements made by natural scientists about the physical and biological world and those made by social scientists about the human world. The human world can only be scientifically understood if one understands the means and purposes, meanings, motives and intentions, as these are expressed differently in widely differing contexts. The causal argumentation appropriate to social science follows a different ceteris paribus clause than natural science, since social science has to do with subjectivity and therefore with the sheer peculiarity and contingency of history and the historical place.

But the “new atheists” insist on citing mixed case studies of religion and war, taken from different epochs, different types of society and situations abstracted from context, as long as they can only be used to illustrate their claims. Malice is applauded as the heroism of modern truth fighters1. The new atheists pay little attention to the constructed and historically embedded nature of the categories used, namely "religion" and "science", and they successfully avoid any nuanced examination of the extent and nature of religious involvement in war and violence, e.g. Year 1320 and the Quakers of 1820 over a ridge. Above all, they fail to examine why, for example, Christianity and Buddhism in their origins and founding writings profess non-violence and yet elsewhere welcome violence with apparently undue enthusiasm, apart from the banal observation that Christians or Buddhists will one day come to power, to strike a different note. Those Christians who rose to power in Constantine's Rome were not the same people, nor did they come from the same social class as those who had been persecuted under various emperors from Nero to Diocletian.

It is strange when a public debate among “scientists” comes up with ready-made recipes, rhetorical tricks and celebrity gladiator fights that are characteristic of today's mass media. It is curious that the allegation of violence against religion seems to have arisen from a point of view that uses the Sermon on the Mount as a benchmark for criticism. I do not believe for a moment that neoatheists like Richard Dawkins recognize a personal rule of life in the Sermon on the Mount, even if they consider it one of the least “offensive” passages in Scripture. That is to say, they speak as if they, and all other enlightened people, agree that war is unreservedly evil, in a way that approximates classical Christian pacifism and adds that of the prestige enjoyed by the Sermon on the Mount Persuasiveness attracts.

They do this without any rational consideration of the appropriateness of the respective reasons for war, whether one seeks this in the defense of civilization against barbarism, in the overthrow of tyranny or in the defense of the state against greedy invaders. Worse still, they go to work with careless indifference to the knowledge of the natural sciences. Doesn't biology declare the struggle for survival to be the empirical norm of the biological as well as the social world, so that there can be nothing empirically surprising or morally outrageous about its predominance in all power discourses, be they religious or otherwise? It is highly paradoxical that the new atheists, above all Richard Dawkins, empirically document the inevitability of the struggle for survival and proclaim that religion inevitably brings disaster, but at the same time morally lament these quasi-natural phenomena as if they believed in free will and never from Kant's dictum that ought presupposes ability. You don't scold a car immorally for not wanting to start.

The level of this public debate is further lowered when people appear on behalf of science but ignore the norms of social science and fail to specify appropriate reasons for violence. In public controversy, “scientific” celebrities are allowed to get away with verbal violence and are encouraged to maraud beyond their sphere of competence as they see fit. In view of this, I would like to expose the rhetorical moves of the participants in this debate, namely the new atheists, who fit all too well with the new criterion of “public impact”, according to which the research results of the social sciences and humanities have recently been evaluated.

I argue that these non-positivist sciences include domains of meaning in which the unmistakable truths of human and social existence emerge. These are the subject of the sciences that deal with history, art and literature and the theologies of the great world religions. I am concentrating here on the kind of truth that appears in the moral doctrine of nonviolence found in the primitive Christianity, especially in the Passion story. This narrative is derived directly from the Sermon on the Mount and lends itself to investigation because the very own problems of violence in Christian societies are best understood in the context of the Sermon on the Mount and the Passion.

This is so precisely because the New Testament runs counter to the necessities of the struggle for survival, which are demonstrated by the social sciences as well as by biology. Murderous battles and the codes associated with them to protect face and honor run through human history and pose no puzzles. But the doctrine of nonviolence as proclaimed by Christianity contradicts them. The struggle can be taken for granted, but non-violence needs explanation. The non-violence in the Sermon on the Mount, which is continued in the Passion story, is the most difficult challenge facing Christianity in view of the obvious consequences of its realization for the maintenance of a civilized and halfway peaceful existence, indeed the continuation of Christianity itself, in a Europe, threatened by hostile invaders for over a millennium.

It is not in the least surprising that original Christianity developed strategies of negotiation, compromise, and assimilation as soon as it began to spread into societies characterized by discourses of power and codes of honor. In examining this process, I focus on feudal monarchy and early modernity. Throughout history, it was inevitable that the Christian Church would turn to those parts of its scriptural repertoire that were most compatible with the types of society in which it exercised power, and it found these most frequently in the Old Testament, although there are passages from Paul and the pastoral letters to be helpful. Apart from the execution of the liturgy, which remained veiled in a classical language, the emphasis on the representation of Christianity often shifted to the Old Testament. Rulers modeled their self-image more on the image of Solomon, David, Hezekiah or Joschiah than on the figure of a crucified criminal.

Kinds of truth

One of the most important objections to religion is directed against the exclusive claim to truth that the great world religions seem to have and its consequences for peaceful coexistence. But the idea of ​​truth and falsehood came about at a very late stage in the development of religious consciousness and cannot be ascribed to religion in general. Furthermore, the concept of truth is a double-edged sword that can not only be used against idolaters, but that can also be used to establish the idea that there are criteria. This aspect is important because these criteria refer to types of truth and falsehood that are very different from those in the natural sciences, notwithstanding the fact that there is a genealogical connection between the late emergence of the idea of ​​religious truth and the later emergence of the idea of ​​scientific Truth may exist. It is a paradox that the critics of religion present themselves as representatives of an unambiguous truth, such as is inherent in the established knowledge of natural science, to the exclusion of other types of truth. They too delight in making exclusive claims to truth and in a self-image as warriors, heroes and martyrs for the sake of the cause of truth. In recent times religious people have suffered from the zeal of those who limit truth to the type of truth represented by the sciences. The concept of truth, however, is a double-edged sword in each Context, not just in the context of religious statements.

Against the missionary truth fighters I would like to object that there are many kinds of truth and non-naturalistic sequential chains. We encounter it, for example, in literary narration, in tragedy and in historiography. The kind of non-naturalistic truth that can be found in Christianity as well as in Buddhism and to a certain extent in other religions of the Axial Age runs counter to the realities described above all in biology, but also in the social sciences. These sciences show that the struggle for supremacy and the codes of honor associated with it represent the normal state of human society, also as a consequence of the imperative of social solidarity.

Christianity removes its followers, especially those who persist in its principles, from the empirical realities of “the world”, understood as a kingdom ruled by “the authorities and the powers”, as it is called in the New Testament. The chronic disparity of a world temporarily under the rule of “Satan” gives rise to the ideas of temptation and evil - hence the request: “Do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.Strangely, in the moral judgments that Richard Dawkins hurls against religion, this notion of evil occupies a central position. The new atheists have detached it from its religious matrix without noticing its origins and its blatant incompatibility with their own philosophical positivism. In addition, they have identified a main source of evil in precisely that prophetic tradition which it originally exposed by turning to transcendence. They naively assume that everything would be so much better if the evils of religion were only removed and the natural good in man was allowed to express and flourish when, according to their own scientific premises, it is driven by the struggle for survival. The moral stigmatization of the believers derives its meaning from this view, and from it draws the optimism of that campaign, the penance with the message “There is probably no God. So don't worry and enjoy your life ”through London - in the spirit of the program of material redemption proclaimed by the New Atheists, secured by the power and technical dominance of science, which would have done an Auguste Comte to honor.

Non-naturalistic discourses do not rely on hypostatized entities, but on the wealth of verbal signs embedded in a particular historical and cultural context and on the internal “logic of the situation”. Turning now to the modes of truth inherent in these discourses, including that of Christianity, I turn first to the religious and violent truths of the Passion story, which is central to the Christian gospel. Christianity embodies its “truth” in condensed signs within multi-layered narratives, for example in the form of the cross, understood as a sign at the center of the story of suffering. This is about the kind of truth as it appears in the kerygmatic narratives of a belief like the Christian one. Such truth does not correspond to those types of mutually exclusive truths based on a discourse about well-defined empirical entities and their properties.

The Christian faith is based on a narrative (and the signs associated with it) that has a moral center of gravity, from which arises an organic spectrum of potential for interpretation and which, according to the different situations and types of society with which it comes into contact, produces contingent appropriations. Feudalism is one such type of society, industrial capitalism another. The distinction between organic and contingent cannot be delimited by abstract and rational criteria, but only by tracing the paths of different social-moral logics and their mutual relationships and elective affinities. And what that means can only be clarified by specifically tracing the “logic” of the organic potentials and then the logic of the contingent appropriations. This is a difficult task, and one that is entirely different from stipulative definitions of what constitutes real or true Christianity.

We are not dealing here with true or false in this irrelevant sense, but with overlapping logics, some of which are closely related and others less so. As soon as one understands what is meant by a moral center of gravity, one realizes that these logics make a limited claim to validity and overlap in such a way that they are by no means mutually exclusive. This disjunctive logic alone belongs to a completely different kind of truth, and that means that it is really downright simplistic to argue that the field of "religion" (by which the specifically Axial religions are meant here) is teeming basically of irreconcilable claims to truth. Alternate centers of moral gravity found in Islam and Confucianism are very different from one another, but at the same time they overlap and interpenetrate.

Within each of the various moral centers of gravity there are varying articulations of the space between timeless being and becoming, as people experience under the pressure of time, which is particularly expressed in the finiteness of life and in the expectations of an eschatological judgment. The main traditions contain elements of both, and the greatest distance between them could perhaps be seen between a Christianity, whose concern for moral development circles under the pressures of scarce time, and Chinese ways of thinking that lock time in the joys of moral and aesthetic contemplation . The Christian tradition oscillates between anticipation of a kingdom brought about by the power of God and rare attempts to eradicate hierarchy and power structures through the exemplary violence of a revolution, while Chinese traditions seek it through a concept of harmony that presupposes self-control, hierarchy and violence to control and legitimize at the same time. This creates different balances between being and becoming within these two traditions. In the Christian there are temporary resting places for the experience and exploration of being, which can take the form of aesthetic contemplation or of devotional techniques in the ascetic tradition. Visits to the "lovely mountains," as Bunyan calls them, are not final resting points, but provide refreshment to the pilgrim and reassure him of what can be achieved when the spiritual war of earthly pilgrimage comes to an end. The pilgrimage of faith and hope will bring tragic encounters with despair, guilt, pathos and bathos regarding the distance between what is strived for and what has been achieved, from which a drama of judgment and forgiveness and chronic falls into the abyss of nothingness arise from. This kind of spiritual drama of becoming is rather rare in Chinese culture.

Between a love command and a code of honor

The crucial differences between the moral centers of gravity emerge most clearly with regard to the discourses of power and violence. These discourses are deeply embedded in human society and shed particularly clear light on the problems dealt with here. Let us turn to Christianity's moral center of gravity, the Passion story, to explore the relationships it creates, organic and contingent, with discourses of power. I am particularly interested in the tension between everything implied by the non-violence of the Sermon on the Mount, which is realized in the story of the Passion, and the code of honor at the heart of feudalism and of course many other types of society. The explicit prohibition of a code of honor in Christianity can be understood as its specific understanding of the integrity of the non-violent Christian subject. The integrity and moral responsibility of the non-violent Christian subject embodied by Jesus makes the relationship of Christianity to societies in which “honor” is central to being particularly tense. This tension calls for strategies of negotiation and provisional reconciliation.

In doing so, we go beyond Max Weber's portrayal of the tensions between the economic, political, aesthetic and erotic spheres in order to explore the pressure exerted on self-formation by the shortness of time and the threatening courtship. According to the Gospel, “the night will come when no one can do anything,” but in the meantime we obsessively work to be accountable to redeem the “useless sad time that stretches before and after” In the poem “Dreams Before Sleeping”, Clive James gives an account of his losses and misfortunes in succinct sentences, a “bed of nails that you have prepared / and on which you now have to lie”, thus transforming his failure into permanent poetry .3 This is the aesthetic solution that some pursue for life. The silk threads of this logic of moral consistency are quite different from the hard material causal chains that can be found in natural science.

Art and literature in Christian cultures persistently deal with the corruption that sets in when moral responsibility fails, and with the seemingly trivial first steps that eventually let the Christian stumble into a moral abyss where he can withdraw from himself and God alienated. Pacts are made, the price of which initially appears small, but which then suddenly pile up immense moral debts that can neither be paid nor endured. One of the classic examples is Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, who exclaims desperately: "See how the blood of Christ billows up there!", Berlioz ’ La damnation de Faust and Tom Rakewell's life in Stravinsky's The Rake’s Progress. The chronically indebted Christian lives in two worlds with irreconcilable frames of reference that create what could be described as moral disruption. This is exactly where the dramas of confession and renewal take place. In many modern versions there is only perdition without redemption, a form of catharsisless tragedy that Shakespeare used Antony and Cleopatra and Troilus and Cressida anticipated.

Let us now consider a crucial turning point in the Passion story: the Judas kiss. This cameo is not a statement of the relationship between entities, rerum cognoscere causasbut an encounter that we understand from the logic of the situation. In sociological terms, Weber's classic method of understanding is used here, except that understanding is not a peculiarity of sociology. We understand in exactly the same way when we examine what dramatic representations, for example Shakespeare or Ibsen, are about, and also religious narratives. We “understand” whether we are looking at data from sociology, the closing scenes of King Lear or Antony and Cleopatra, Titian's last painting of the Pietà or the last chapters of the Gospel. Sociology is deeply related to the humanities, including theology. Some sociologists reject any such connection, perhaps out of status fear of compromising the essence and purity of their scientifically understood scientific endeavors. This status fear is complementary to the reluctance of natural scientists to get involved in problems and practices of social science.

The Judas kiss represents an act of betrayal accomplished through an act of love. He initiates the arrest of a defenseless innocent by the corrupt forces of state violence “with swords and clubs”. The capture of Jesus is a turning point in the narrative because it dramatically reduces the options available to the victim. In order to maintain his integrity, the nonviolent Christian subject must accept the risk of his annihilation, for the exercise of the will to power and the use of material force would call his integrity into question and thwart his salvation. The imperative of non-violence is proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount and realized in the Passion story, which means that George Bernard Shaw's distinction between Christianity and crucifixion (crosstianity) overlooks the inner bond between word and deed, between the sermon and the moral and existential drama of salvation.4 This drama is a descent into limitation, without which there can be no ascent to glory: without crucifixion there can be no resurrection. The Creed and Scripture are in agreement: “He who came down is the same who came up…” Humility and glory are as closely linked as sermon and atonement.

The distinction between different kinds of truth is closely related to the distinction between different kinds of causality: there are relationships of cause and effect which belong to the realm of physical nature, and relationships of intention and consequence which belong to the moral concerns which we make our own the purposes we pursue and the means we choose to achieve them. The chronic confusion between the discourse of cause and effect and the discourse of intentionality goes back to an even more fundamental confusion in the late Middle Ages: between God, understood as a factor within the whole of causes, and God, understood as the transcendent ground of all being Understanding that we encountered in the debate between Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The logic of causality is consistently misapplied in the realm of intentionality, and the resulting confusion has distorted the practice of the humanities today to the point that the defense of theology has become a defense of the humanities, and vice versa. The paradox of sociology, of course, is that it has to consider the former and understand the latter.

Five key passages from the Passion story exemplify the consistency and purity of the purposes of Jesus, who is always tempted to resort to violence. There is the rejection of the two swords with the words "It is enough"; the healing of the wound made by Peter on the high priest's servant; renouncing “more than twelve legions of angels” to avoid capture; the silence of Jesus in the courtroom on Pilate's question “What is truth?”; and the desperate exclamation on the cross: “My God, my God, why did you leave me?”. The cry of despair represents the ultimate limit of freely chosen self-denial as the price of non-violence: the plumb line of salvation reaches deep to encompass the fullness of human experience, including the absence of God. The Importance of Christ's Silence When Answered "What Is Truth?" lies precisely in the kind of truth that Jesus represents, namely that truth which frees man under the greatest coercion. It belongs to the category of existence and freedom of the spirit, as clarified by the saying “I am the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14: 6), instead of the category of causality, where truth is a quality that is rigid Inherent chains of causality.

All our life decisions belong to the category of existence and freedom of the spirit and therefore lie beyond empirical truth without contradicting it. They demand costs and bring benefits, according to a moral calculation to which the discourses of tragedy belong, whether historical, literary, psychological or theological. Nobody can dismiss these discourses as "superstitious", since superstition is a result of misunderstood causality, while tragedy arises from life choices that are circumscribed by consequences, dilemmas and limitations. Sociology is as much an analysis of constraints as theology. Moreover, under the pressures of the shortness of time, existential truths become urgent and require solution, which in the gospel takes the form of eschatology and the imminent divine judgment, but in human experience it takes the form of the deadly dangers of contingency and the uncertain Interval between the present moment and death.

This condensed and paradigmatic narrative with its dense signs, above all the sign of the undressed and humiliated body in the hands of state power and a corrupt judiciary, was infiltrated into societies that were governed by codes of honor, such as the feudal society at the time of the Crusades. The “divine countenance” met societies in which the protection of face was inscribed by the arbitration tribunal of violence in every social relationship. That is why, in such societies, insult leads to acts of violence against the body, including castration and the tearing out of the culprit's entrails, and why adultery results in murder. The tension between these two moral systems inevitably requires strategies of negotiation and partial reconciliation.

The greatest paradox is probably the one that critics use as an important piece of evidence for the warlike activity of Christianity: The crusades were about conquering holy land by force, in the name of a faith whose paradigmatic discourse rejects both land ownership and violence. It is perfectly correct to state this paradox, but it is a mistake to overlook its importance as a pivotal point in the negotiation between a nonviolent discourse and the requirements of the code of war, between the blood used in a personal act of sacrifice to establish a brotherhood of peace and the blood that is shed by brothers in arms.

We can trace the negotiation and alleviation of the tension between the discourse of nonviolence and the patriarchal code of honor in feudal relations of the Renaissance and knighthood as found in Shakespeare's Henry V and other early modern stage classics. In Henry V. the king is portrayed as someone who chooses between different moral strategies, the decisive factor being negotiations between feudal codes of honor and war and the very different imperatives of Christianity and the more compatible moral models of the Old Testament. The Old Testament is evoked after Henry triumphed over the French at the Battle of Agincourt when he thanks the “God of battles” and orders to sing “Non nobis domine”, which he ascribes the victory to God instead of English valor. Elsewhere, Henry offers the citizens of Harfleur a calculating version of Christianity, promising them mercy if they surrender but merciless violence if they refuse. Heinrich's behavior also fluctuates between a utilitarian ethic, the purpose of which is to bow to English rule, because it strives for peace through justice and grace, and an orgy of violence against prisoners triggered by the fear of a French counterattack.

Perhaps the tension between Christianity and early modern moral code comes to the fore where monarchs seize different biblical images and make use of analogies between the biblical past and their own present. For example, it was quite easy for Henry VIII to portray himself as Solomon, or for Edward VI to see himself in the role of the biblical reformer King Josiah in his Protestant reforms, or - as Marvell did in his poem “The First Anniversary ”Did - to portray Oliver Cromwell as Gideon and the Thorn who agrees to become King of Trees (Judges 9: 8-14). However, it was far less easy for monarchs to imitate Christ. A nonviolent preacher condemned and executed by properly appointed authorities had little attraction to the Renaissance prince by God's grace. Richard II in the portrayal of Shakespeare and Charles I, as portrayed in contemporary iconography, are combined with individual elements of the Passion story, but not with the crucified Christ. Shakespeare's Richard II, in his greatest distress, laments that he is being persecuted by more traitors than Christ, each of them worse than Judas. (Queen Elizabeth saw Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard as a reflection of her own precarious situation and was far from pleased.) In Eikon Basilike Charles I is portrayed as Christ in Gethsemane, but this is hardly a freely chosen “Passion story” .5 These examples reveal the profound incompatibility between the nonviolent sacrifice at the center of the Passion story and the feudal and early modern discourses on power. The early modern monarch only made use of analogies to the crucified Christ, and then only partially. The Stuart kings expected and insisted on non-violence against the God-appointed monarch, but never considered for their part non-violence against rebels. They understood the reciprocity of violence as part of the natural order of things, while the reciprocity of non-violence belongs to a kingdom “out of this world,” Jesus said when asked by Pontius Pilate.

The Gospel narrative followed from the Sermon on the Mount to the logic of human reciprocity in a way that was indifferent to the logic of power, although it seemed threatening enough to the rulers of “Synagogue and State” to set the drama of the Passion in motion . It triumphs over the dependence on worldly possessions as portrayed in the story of the rich young man. Reciprocity embodied in Christ poses a challenge to society organized in social hierarchies, requiring its disciples "not to call anyone father on earth" so that all may be one, just as Christ was one with his Father in mutual love . Christ turned the prevailing hierarchy upside down when he washed the disciples' feet to show that “the first among you” should “be the servant of all”. Church and state adopted this in the liturgy of the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday, although the English monarchy successfully removed the remaining sting of role reversal by converting the gesture into a royal cash payment. George Fox, one of the founding fathers of the Quakers, understood very well the reciprocity required by the gospel in disregard for the installed powers, but even his movement did not entirely escape the imperatives of economic power when we think of the founding of Barclays Bank in 1690 . At the same time, the radical version of Christianity remained embedded in the iconography of power, for example in the Pietà, in the Last Judgment of the Romanesque tympanum, in the veneration of Mary Magdalene and in the communitarian movements that deposited time bombs in Christianity that pointed to favorable moments, Tensions and social rifts had to wait to finally unleash their explosive power - often outside the boundaries of the church. Admittedly, even the radical tradition produced its own pathologies, for example in the long-term consequences of what Charles Taylor called the "turn to the self."

From time to time, and perhaps increasingly during the course of the 18th century, people not only resorted to the Bible for the appropriation of exemplary figures from the past, but also made use of classical mythology, sometimes at the same time, as in Handel's oratorio Hercules or in the iconography of the ceilings of the Banqueting House in Whitehall and the Benediktbeuern monastery. A significant change occurred when the English Puritans embraced the anti-monarchist streak in the covenant between God and the people of Israel. The American revolutionaries adopted this relationship under the auspices of a moderate, semi-Christianized Enlightenment, which emulated classical models. The gap between classical virtue and the pragmatic necessities of realpolitik is far smaller than that between the passion story and any discourse on power. No wonder virtue was so attractive to the renaissance prince and the early modern monarch. Gentle flattery techniques made it palatable to the rulers to emulate an idealized image of power that seemed far less threatening than the perversions and “revaluation of all values” found in Christianity.

The incompatibility of discourses on power and the action of the Passion can be illustrated by the Old English poem The Dream of the Rood, which dates from the time when the Benedictine monk Bede made Anglo-Saxon England the new Israel. Christ is identified as the "brave man" who climbs the tree of salvation with the valor of a warrior. More than a millennium later, a Protestant church in Guildford in the English county of Surrey showed a picture of Christ as "World Champion" at the time of the 2012 Olympic Games: a muscular Olympic ring gymnast with outstretched arms in the so-called cross slope - a direct echo of The Dream of the Rood. Similar representations appear throughout European history, but also in other cultures, and serve to symbolize national liberation and collective redemption. Let us think of the portrayal of Mazzini and Garibaldi, indeed of all the young men who fought in the Risorgimento, as figures of Christ, ready to sacrifice themselves for the nation and its comrades, 7 or of the portrayals of figures as diverse as the fascist dictator Mussolini , the lawless hero Che Guevara and the hero of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi.

Such figures illustrate the role of non-empirical and non-rational categories such as charisma and founding fathers in religion, nationalism and revolutionary ideology equally. “Secular” discourses and “religious” discourses both refer to non-empirical categories. At the same time, the comparisons of later historical figures with Christ emphasize the aspect of self-sacrifice rather than the central message of nonviolent redemption through the surrender of all possessions for the benefit of love. The appropriation of this narrative and / or the radical criticism of property and hierarchy in the Gospel are left in the “sectarian” tradition to voluntaristic groups such as the Lollards and Mennonites. More recently, in the wake of the First and Second World War, one can find recourse to the biblical line “Nobody has greater love than that he gives his life for his friends” in the memorial iconography, which of course clearly refers to the brotherhood in arms and does not refer to the peaceful brotherhoods of early Christianity.

Rival narratives

But why, I now ask, do we focus so much on religion in its relationship to war and violence? The reason for this is that a certain narrative of the French Enlightenment identifies religion as an irrational form of belief and asserts that, firstly, the irrationality of religion is systematically associated with shameful practices and regressive political and moral forms of rule, and that, secondly, these forms in particular Wise to be entangled in violence. This narrative has precursors in Montaigne and his comments on the relationship between religious beliefs and the tendency to conflict, which were nourished from the experience of the French wars of religion.

So what we are dealing with here is a banal and unproductive truth that leads nowhere but a new, negative dogmatism about a hypostatic entity: that of religion “in general” and “at all times”. The assertion that religion is essentially irrational is then expanded to include the dogma that there is an inner connection between irrational beliefs and bad behavior, and thus also between the true and the good. A dogmatic claim of this kind, deprived of the hypothetical character that characterizes science, is reminiscent of analogous statements in certain Christian discourses, for example the Catholic view from the 12th century that the Cathars are nothing other than morally misguided and perverse because they adhered to a dualistic theological doctrine.

We have to ask ourselves what historical experiences, interests and perspectives made intellectuals in France susceptible to adopting a narrative that holds religion in particular - and not other equally obvious factors - responsible for warlike behavior. The same applies to a narrative constructed in the Anglo-American Enlightenment, which attaches a far more positive value to religion. For Thomas Paine, much depended on freeing natural religion from specific claims to revelation and, following the model of voluntaristic religion, which formed Paine's own background and found unhindered expression in the USA, on releasing all religions from their involvement in state power Protestant thought blamed much of Christianity's negative balance on Catholicism and the clergy, and Herbert Spencer identified Protestantism with liberal trade pacifism in the 19th century.

There is also a Catholic master narrative that locates warlike and imperialist tendencies in the connection between Protestantism and capitalism. Contemporary agnostic or atheistic interventions of religion and war merge the French enlightenment narrative with the Protestant and Catholic and complement them with a revived narrative from the 19th century that identifies religion with a fundamental opposition to science, particularly evolutionary biology. This is reinforced by the construction of the category of specifically religious terrorism, which ignores anti-religious terrorism, for example anarchism.

This presentation is supported by thought experiments, which possible consequences it can have, firstly, to accept empirically unprovable beliefs, and, secondly, to receive convictions from higher authority: God has me orderedto act violently and promise me eternal reward for it. One might ask why, under the guidance of the Spirit, “ignorant and common people” should not feel empowered to express what is on their minds as do professional intellectuals. Be that as it may, most of our life choices and beliefs, be they religious or otherwise, are unprovable, including atheism, scientism, human rights discourse, and all political ideologies. There is a wide array of non-rational, non-empirical features that politics and religion share.

I would like to conclude with three observations: First, most decisions in our lives are not based on evidence. Second, it is normal to take on authority-based opinions and act on them, such as following public opinion or the zeitgeist, or emulating political ideas. Third, acts of violence are not necessarily irrational and illegitimate - they can serve justice. Despite religious scruples, Dietrich Bonhoeffer joined the assassins of July 20. We cannot claim that Islamist terror arises from pure evil. There are situations of oppression in the face of which we must recognize religious (or non-religious) terrorism as a legitimate act of war. At the very least, we should be ready to admit that violence against secular Western powers that aided corrupt regimes for serving their imperialist goals can be legitimate. Another example is Poland under the secularist Soviet rule: Here religion played an essential role in the struggle for democratic and national self-determination. Perhaps cultural and economic imperialism, be it that of Great Britain, France or the Soviet Union, be it that of imperial or red China, is a geopolitical semi-constant that has different effects depending on the power constellation, regardless of whether it is religiously articulated or not. Perhaps war, irrational jealousy, and submission to authorities are also semi-constants that we would rather ascribe to religion than investigate empirical circumstances.

We in the West tend to avoid such investigations because our conception of an orderly society is based on a secular master narrative that is committed to the idea of ​​progress and ignores circumstances and developments that contradict it. The same applies to our conception of history and, in particular, of the Enlightenment, whose emancipatory achievement no one denies, but which we gladly ignore their aiding in racism, autocracy and expansionism as well as their demand for submission to their norms.

Published 23 April 2013
Original in English
Translated by Andreas Simon dos Santos
First published by Transit 43/2013 (German version)

Contributed by Transit © David Martin / Transit / Eurozine