On the Relationship Between Violence and Religion (with a note on the Harmonization of Faith and Reason)

One of my classmates asked me about the concept of terrorism in biblical and religious context in connection with what is happening in Europe. She was referring to the extremist ISIS and the attack in Paris (and other localities).


On the central question about the relationship between religion and violence, the QUR’ANprovides that “There is no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:256). But then there is also the opposite idea of Holy War (Jihad).

“….Kill those who join other gods with Allah wherever you find them; besiege them, seize them, lay in wait for them with every kind of ambush….”(Sura 9:5).

“When you encounter the unbelievers, strike off their heads, until ye have made a great slaughter among them….”(Sura 47:4).

“….Make war upon such of those to whom the Scriptures have been given as believe not in Allah, or in the Last Day, and who forbid not what Allah and His Apostle have forbidden….until they pay tribute…” (Sura 9:29).

“Say to the infidels: If they desist, what is now past shall be forgiven them; but if they return, they have already before them the doom of the ancients! Fight then against them till strife be at an end, and the religion be all of it Allah’s.” (Sura 8:39).

“Proclaim a grievious penalty to those who reject faith.” (Sura 9:3).

But this Jihad is not something how we understand war today. it is a form of defense, “Jihad in Islam is not an act of violence directed indiscriminately against the non-Muslims; it is the name given to an all-round struggle which a Muslim should launch against evil in whatever form or shape it appears. Fighting in the way of Allah is only one aspect of Jihad. Even this in Islam is not an act of mad brutality….It has MATERIAL and MORAL functions, i.e. self-preservation and the preservation of the moral order in the world.” (“Sahih Muslim, III, page 938 – explanatory note).


The BIBLE is also replete of verses on VIOLENCE, the LEX TALIONES (reTALIAtion origin) “an eye for an eye” is an example.

(Exodus 21:24 – eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot) (Leviticus 24:20 – fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.) (Deuteronomy 19:21 – Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.)

In one of the CRUSADES (Albigensian Crusade) to eliminate Catharism there is this famous line of Almaric (a Papal legate) “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (informally translated as “Kill them all, God will know his own”)

But this primitive concepts of retaliation and violence evolved. The BEATITUDES for example in the Gospel of Matthew provides that “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.


Spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God… is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats…To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…” (Faith, Reason and the University Memories and Reflections, Benedict XVI)

However the concept that God is transcendent (in some Muslim ideology) argues that since God is transcendent, he is not bound by any limitation including reason or the word (logos). This might sound correct. But this is something which is very dangerous when this is translated into a belief system. This might lead to a use of violence or unreasonableness for the promotion and growth of faith.

And so there is a need to harmonize faith (our belief system) with modern reason (logos). Otherwise this VIOLENCE (the unreasonableness) will continue.


There is one problem today in harmonizing faith with modern reason. The latter has its criterion of scientific empiricity. It accepts only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. As a result, it excludes FAITH as something unscientific. This canon of SCIENTIFICITY now becomes a limitation to the tremendous possibility of REASON. This FAITH therefore cannot be harmonized with REASON because faith cannot be put under the lense of SCIENTIFIC METHOD. (Is it really impossible for FAITH to pass this scientific method?)

In many parts of the world TODAY, it is widely held that ONLY SCIENTIFIC TRUTHS are universally valid. This limited form of REASON (based on scientific method) excludes THE RELIGIOUS CULTURES which is seen by the latter as an attack on their (religious cultures) most profound convictions. This limited form of REASON is “a reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures…” (Benedict XVI). FAITH asks questions which underlie this LIMITED FORM OF REASON and the latter avers, mocks and attacks the former. This aversion, mockery and attack on FAITH endangers the world.

This is not attempt to reject this positive aspect of modernity, the scientific method. It is in fact to be acknowledged and celebrated. This method has an attitude attuned to the truth, the end which FAITH also seeks to understand. We will succeed in harmonizing FAITH with MODERN REASON “if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons…” and if we have “the courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur.” (Benedict XVI)


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