Does Religion Cause War? Or Does Religion Promote Peace and Restrain War?
Within the pages of this book the reader will discover a rich array of texts that, in their different ways, throw light on a range of religious attitudes toward violence and war. The challenge inherent in such a collection of texts lies in their divergence – both the divergence between texts from different religions on the one hand, and the different, partly conflicting views found within the same religion or branches of a religion on the other. To draw a single overarching conclusion about the relationship between religion, war, and ethics is well-nigh impossible. Does religion cause war? Yes. Does religion promote peace and restrain war? Yes. Both – and more – are true. Much depends on the conflict in question, the historical situation, the people and beliefs involved, and – not least important for this book – the interpretation of texts. Yet in spite of this diversity there do exist common tensions and questions that can be found throughout the materials gathered herein. In highlighting these, our purpose in this Introduction is to facilitate the reading of the texts on war, violence, and religion found in this book.
What Is Our Subject Matter?
Before we go any further, let us start with a very basic question: What is religion? In other words, what is the basic point of departure for this book? This is not easy to answer, since there are so many nuances and differences within and between religions, such as the following:
between monotheism and polytheism;
between belief in a god who reveals him- or herself through history and belief in karma or other more impersonal forces that influence our lives;
between the belief that earthly life is lived only once and the belief that any one human life is part of a long cycle of lives lived;
between belief in an overarching, omnipotent power or principle and belief in several competing powers or principles who (or which) can challenge and potentially defeat each other;
between belief in a strict dividing line between earthly and heavenly existence and beliefs that do not as clearly distinguish between the two; and
between belief in a set of canonical texts that express divine truth and belief in less text-oriented and less canonical approaches to the tenets of a religion.