Many people blame religion for many, if not all, of the wars in the world. In Fields of Blood, Karen Armstrong argues that the problem lies not so much in religion but the violence embedded in our human nature and the nature of the state.
Until the modern period, religion permeated all aspects of life. Hence it is linked to all human activities, including empire building, nationalism, … and war. The state required the forcible subjugation of at least 90% of the population, and empire builders invariably invoke religion to endow themselves with legitimacy.
Constantine’s Roman Empire showed what could happen when an originally peaceful tradition (Christianity as an often-persecuted community) became too closely associated with the government (the politically powerful state church).
In modern times, religion has often been displaced in public life by secularization. Yet violence has not receded. In revolutionary France, for the first time, nationalism has mobilised the whole of society for war. In the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, the alien ideology of nationalism transformed traditional religious symbols and myths and gave them a violent dimension.
War, it has been said, is caused by our inability to see relationships. Our relationships with our economic and historical situation. Our relationship with our fellow men. And above our relationship to nothingness. To death. There is still massive inequality and an unfair imbalance of power. But the dispossessed are not helpless peasants anymore. They have found ways of fighting back.
If we want a viable world, we have to take responsibility for the world’s pain and learn to listen. All this requires the surrender, selflessness and compassion of true faith.