Tuesday, May 20, 2003

From The Christian Century, a response to Jonathon Rausch's "apatheism"

Many intellectuals associate religion--and Christianity in particular--with violence. Hence they argue that the less religion we have the better off we will be. In an article in the Atlantic, for example, Jonathan Rauch argues that the greatest development in modern religion is "apatheism"--a sense of not caring one way or the other whether God exists. The best of all possible situations, says Rauch, is to be indifferent toward religion, whether you are religious or not.

On the pages of this journal and elsewhere, I have argued the opposite. If we strip Christian convictions of their original and historic cognitive and moral content, and reduce faith to a cultural resource endowed with a diffuse aura of the sacred, we are likely to get religiously legitimized and inspired violence in situations of conflict. If, on the other hand, we nurture people in historic Christian convictions that are rooted in sacred texts, we will likely get militants for peace. This is a result of a careful examination of two things: the inner logic of Christian convictions and actual Christian practice. In his book The Ambivalence of the Sacred, R. Scott Appleby argues that on the basis of case studies, and contrary to widespread misconception, religious people play a positive role in the world of human conflicts and contribute to peace--not when they "moderate their religion or marginalize their deeply held, vividly symbolized and often highly particular beliefs," but rather "when they remain religious actors."

Even if this argument is sound (as I think it is), we still need to ask why misconceptions about the violent character of Christian faith abound.....