The link between religion and violence is obvious. The nature of the link is far from obvious; and is, in fact, usually misunderstood. Religion isn’t the cause of violence. Human beings are the cause of violence. Our covetous envy is the cause of violence, writes Drasko Dizdar.
Imitating each other’s acquisitive desires leads us to rivalry, which, without too much effort, soon morphs into what cannot be disguised as anything other than the violence it is: the most powerfully mimetic force known among sentient beings.
When that violence grips an entire community of animals no longer protected by the submission-domination mechanism, it threatens it with what every society fears most: ‘the war that is of every man against every man’ (Thomas Hobbes).
The claim that religion is the cause of violence is one of the more stupid that the post-religious mind has concocted for itself in order to cover up the unpalatable truth that it is we envying one another that is its root cause.
It is the myth of our age to blame religion for violence in a last ditch effort to blind ourselves to our own scapegoating mechanism by turning it against religion itself in a final ironic effort to manage our own violence sacrificially without calling it that. Religion—which is to say ‘the sacrificial system’ of ‘sacred violence’—far from being the cause of violence, is the primal means by which it was managed, contained and channelled by being sacralised.
Our hominid ancestors became human by creating ‘culture’ through the agency of ‘religion’: the sacralising of violence by using ‘good’ violence to contain ‘bad’ violence. And now, with the demise of religion, the collapse of the sacrificial system, the human cultural experiment will end.
Once the pre-human submission-domination mechanism failed, religion became the means by which humans were able to short-circuit their self-destructive violence by projecting it onto the ‘gods/demons’, channelling it through their sacrificial victims and containing it with ‘the Law’.
Wherever the sacrificial system, or ‘religion’, collapses so does our ability to manage our violence—because the Law by itself cannot do it. And Jesus is the end of ‘religion’, the end of sacrifice, myth and the Law: ‘Do you suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth?’ he asks. ‘No, I tell you, but rather division.’ (Luke 12:51)
How? By uncovering the hidden causes of violence the Law delays; revealing the truth the myth covers up; and robbing us of the sacrificial means by which we manage violence at the expense of our victims.
Jesus was the first truly non-religious human being—rather than a ‘post-religious’ or ‘anti-religious’ one. In him, there was no covetous rivalry at all, and therefore in him there is no need for religion in order to manage violence.
The world’s best religion, Judaism—by which I mean the best attempt by human beings to deal with the worst in us as human ‘becomings’—understood him perfectly: ‘If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away the Holy Place and our nation.’ (John 11:48)
And if this is what he would do to the best religion in the world—take away its sacrificial means (‘Holy Place’) of generating peace and unity (‘the nation’)—then what would he do to the worst religions, those that are barely better than the worst they are meant to manage?
Judaism survives because it is the best religion human beings have—and that’s only because it is a revealed religion: it contains the Torah, that essential message that the Gospel seeks to proclaim as realised in the kingdom of God, which, it tells us, belongs to the poor.
All the ‘natural/pagan religions’—ones we spawn without the benefit of revelation—die when infected with the Gospel, with the ‘Christ virus’ of the ‘innocent victim’.
Caiaphas and Nietzsche, in their very different ways, understood this perfectly: Caiaphas because he was the quintessential religious man (‘You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish’ John 11:49-50); and Nietzsche because he was the first fully post-religious man, rendered resentful to the point of rage, and driven insane, by his tragic loss (it is, after all, for the loss of religion—‘God is dead!’ Nietzsche’s madman mourns—that Nietzsche detests Christ).
Both, of course, were right. Caiaphas is the sanest of men and Nietzsche the wisest of madmen. To the likes of Caiaphas—the ‘quintessentially religious’—the crucified Christ is an obstacle impossible to get over: a scandal, a blasphemy; and to the likes of Nietzsche—the post-religious ‘worldly wise’—faith in Christ is madness only the truly mad, like Nietzsche, can appreciate with complete loathing.
Dr Drasko Dizdar is a member of the Emmaus monastic community, and a theologian with the Tasmanian Catholic Education Office.
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