An interesting discussion on religion and violence

To mark the 439th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, I thought I’d alert our readers to a discussion taking place on Cynthia R. Nielsen’s interesting blog Per Caritatem on “Violence and Christian Holy Writ.”


I contributed a short piece on Rene Girard based on our own discussions of Girard here on Whosoever Desires.  (My own piece won’t come up for another few weeks, but the others’ contributions are even more interesting.)

6 Responses to An interesting discussion on religion and violence

  1. Qualis Rex says:

    On a personal level, the biggest (and I mean BIGGEST) challenge on being Catholic isn’t fasting on Fridays and holy days, it isn’t the lumbering hierarchy, or even indulgences; it’s having to believe the OT is inspired. The reason being, I have always had a big difficulty with Deuteronomy as a whole, as well as stories such as the genocides of Amelkites, or “god” commanding entire families to be burnt alive, or any host of behavior we would now consider highly immoral. I could go on, but I think the point is made.

    Over the years, I’ve spoken to many Orthodox/Eastern Catholic and Jewish prists & rabbis about this. The Rabbinim & Eastern Orthodox/Catholic Priests generally concur; they say these commands from “god” were necessary for that moment in time for whatever reason. We can speculate why, but it’s not for us to question or judge. The “best” answer I received was from a quite orthodox Catholic priest back in the day (one of the few in the 90’s) who said the “commands” that were interpreted as such by the Israelites and authors of the bible may have been errant, and the stories following show the result of what happens when you misinterpret them. Another example is the story of Abraham and Isaac; “god” says previously in the bible that He does NOT want child sacrifice, but yet Abraham interprets the situation to mean sacrifice his own son, and this is later (mis)interpreted as a “test” for him. But on the same token, from that point on we do not hear him speaking directly to God in any further stories (i.e. the consequence of his misinterpretation).

    Anyway, for me, the NT is very cut-and-dry. It’s the OT that requires too much mental, ethical and moral arithmatic to jibe with the message of the NT. Did I ever tell you Marcian is my secret hero?

  2. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Yes, one can see the temptation toward Marcionism, though the Church very clearly chose not to take that path.

    I think we have to struggle with the OT, and there may not be any one right way to read the whole thing; different passages need to be interpreted in different ways. I don’t have a fully worked out way of explaining what happened to the Amelkites. The Fathers turned everything into an allegory. Allegory has fallen out of favor today, but there’s something to be said for it, even if some of the Fathers might have overdone it in places.

    I also do think, as Christians, we have to interpret the OT in the light of the NT. When teaching high schoolers I sometimes liked to say that the Bible has three Creation stories — 2 in Genesis and one in John. The Prologue to John, in my view, comes first, not chronologically, but in interpretive priority; it paints the fullest picture. So, in a way, this means reading backwards. As Christians I think we have to see the OT as incomplete.

    None of this solves the problem, but these are considerations that perhaps might guide a solution.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Thanks for your insight there, Anthony. And yes, I tend to take the allegorical “way out” often regarding the OT (i.e. “it was all just a bad baaaaaaad dream. Didn’t really happen. Just learn the valuable lesson which is, er…happy are those…who…to thine own self be true or whatever and move on…”).

      I WOULD like to add one thing tho, given the author of the text/blog above chose to juxtapose the Battle of Lepanto (may Our Lady of Victory and Blessed Marco d’Aviano aid us now and always) with the Amelkites. While there is an unfortunate tendency in our current culture towars historical revisionism, the battle of Lepanto, and indeed the crusades in general were NOT genocidal. The end-game was NOT to exterminate or erradicate an entire race or culture. And, contrary to popular myth, the Battle of Lepanto and the crusades were DEFENSIVE wars against a Mohammedan AGRESSOR, and not some sort of Western imperialism or expansionism as many wayward professors have been teaching for some time now.

      I am not saying this was some sort of subliminal message the author was gunning for, but to put Lepanto on the same level with the biblical Israelite genocide of the Amelkites is a bit of a stretch to say the least.

  3. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    OK, fair enough point: Lepanto, the Crusades, and the violence in the OT raise different issues and need to be treated separately.

    I was not trying to make any point in particular with the juxtaposition.

    (Though I will say that for an event of such significance, the Battle of Lepanto has rather drifted into historical oblivion.)

  4. Qualis Rex says:

    Anthony, no, I absolutely know you were not. My poor choice of words there, not yours. And to your pont, the odd thing is the date of September 11 was picked precisely to attack the US because of the Victory at Vienna. Lepanto should be a wakeup call for Christians everywhere. But alas, it is an inconvenient truth, as they say. It’s a case where Europeans were on the defensive against a “non-Western” agressor. No way to spin this to make Christians look bad there.

    • mydogoreo says:

      Thank you, QR, for reminding us of the 9/11 Victory at Vienna. Many don’t know the significance of that battle. But I believe it was Hilaire Belloc who brought it to my attention as I scanned one of his books once.

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