Have you ever wondered how we deal with the violent aspects of our faith traditions? How do we hear the ‘good news’ in passages of scripture which are, when we are honest about it, gruesomely violent? It is not easy for many of us to accept that violence lies at the heart of scripture – whether that scripture is Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu or other religious traditions. Often instead of acknowledging and openly dealing with violence we ignore it, pretend it is not there, or explain it away as some sort of unfortunate aberration. In this book of collected papers by a range of Australian scholars some of these questions are addressed – from a variety of faith traditions.
The papers in this book address the subject from a variety of perspectives and in widely different styles. John Squires and Elizabeth Raine offer a dramatic reconstruction of a hypothetical, but exceedingly well informed, interview between a Roman centurion and a Jewish leader based around Mark’s account of the passion narrative. It is entertaining – at times funny. It is historically well informed, and above all, it is barbed. Not only in its wit – but in the way it leaves the reader questioning how the gospel writers portray the violence of the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Was Jesus a political agitator who was not beyond advocating violence? Is limited violence acceptable in order to prevent wider acts of violence?
In contrast William Emilsen offers a reflection on Gandhi and his principle of non-violence. In doing so Emilsen openly explores how Gandhi approached his acknowledged favourite scriptural text – the Bhagavad Gita – hardly a non-violent text. Gandhi, Emilsen argues, consistently placed his own moral judgements above the declarations of Vedas, Shastras and even his beloved Gita. For Gandhi, it was the principle of non-violence which governed his interpretation of the Gita, not the reverse. If we as Christians were to adopt a similar attitude, how would this affect our theology and our understanding of sacred text?
Chris Budden addresses similar concerns through another vein. Through the theology of redemptive violence – or atonement – he examines what has been a central plank of Christian theology in the death of Jesus. How do we understand atonement, redemptive violence and the person of God? Can violence lead to the hospitality of God – or must we revisit our understanding of this aspect of Christian theology? Does the idea of redemptive violence lead not to forgiveness, but to further violence?
Mehmet Ozalp examines violence within the Qur’an and the life of the prophet Muhammad pbuh. Ozalp acknowledges that the prophet, and the Qur’an, never embrace the principle of non-violence. Never the less, he shows a softer, kinder aspect to the prophet, and Islam that is often seen in western media. Ozalp explains that the Qur’an and the Prophet lay out principles to curb violence and ameliorate warfare, and could be considered as exemplars of the proper use of force in a violent world.
Gaary Trompf looks at religion and violence from a sociological perspective, asking if humanity is really so very different from its animalistic origins. Christopher Stanley explores words of life and death in Jewish, Islamic and Christian scripture. Anastasia Boniface-Malle explores religious violence in an African context, particularly against women and children. Jione Havea looks at violence in the Hebrew bible and how there are both texts which affirm the oppressed, and texts which increase and exacerbate the violence they experience. Such texts must be acknowledged, and the violence must be encountered and addressed.
Extremism and violence lie within all our religious traditions. There is the possibility of employing religious text to validate and encourage violence. This book helps us to openly acknowledge this fact, and offers some tools and some possibilities to help the reader to uncover and expose the violence in our various religious traditions, and to begin to address it. Though this book is not always an easy or pleasant read, it is always opening new challenges and provoking new thoughts and possibilities. It encourages the reader to ask questions of sacred text, and how we use it to validate our understanding of God. This is a good book, and an important contribution to how we read sacred text in a world facing continued religious extremism and religiously inspired violence. Highly recommended.