During Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture at the University of Regensburg on 12 September, he quoted the views of a late 14th-century Byzantine emperor concerning the unreasonableness of spreading faith through violence.
Emperor Michael II Paleologus presided over a drastically reduced empire. For 700 years, first militant Arabs then Turks had been steadily pushing its frontiers back to the point where it was scarcely more than a city-state.
Christianity was the state religion of the empire. Its opponents, Arabs and Turks, were Muslim. History describes the conflict simply in terms of Muslim versus Christian, omitting the social, economic and political motives involved, not to mention greed and the hunger for power.
Alas, the followers of each of the three great monotheistic religions from time to time have had recourse to violence in the name of God.
Both ancient and modern Israel were born out of struggle and violence — for example, Joshua tells a tale of merciless bloodshed in the conquest of Canaan.
Christians cannot throw stones with impunity — remember Byzantine Christian armies fighting Persia, Catholic Spaniards conquering pagan Mexico and Inquisitors judging fellow Christians accused of heresy.
In ancient times, Muslim warriors spread their faith across North Africa and the Middle East to the Pyrenees and the gates of Vienna. Today sectarian violence within the world of Islam is still pitting Shiite against Sunni.
Unfortunately, the holy scriptures of Jews, Christians and Muslims are sometimes used to justify violence. It is possible to find verses supporting violence in the Torah, the Gospels and the Quran.
What is the main thrust of each of these three great religions? Is it violence? Each has a bewildering array of texts and traditions: Torah, Mishna, Talmud — Gospels, creeds, catechisms, canonical codes — Quran, Hadith, Sharia.
The heart of the matter for Jews is the text of Deuteronomy that is enshrined on the lintel of every doorway and wrapped on the arm and brow at prayer: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength
Christians look to the Last Supper discourse in John’s Gospel where Jesus says: I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
A Muslim never tires of reciting the phrase that is, in effect, the central confession of faith of Islam: There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his messenger.
Violence is in contradiction to what each faith is supposed to preach. Regrettably, rather than see the other as a fellow believer and child of God, we make easy recourse to labels — goy, heretic, infidel, kafr — and easily oversimplify complex modern conflicts as struggles, e.g., between Christianity and Islam, Jew and Muslim.
Is there still a lot of violence in the name of religion? Sadly, yes, we know it daily. But, who dare stand before the throne of the one God with brother’s blood on his hands and expect to be rewarded.
Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern