The Myth of Religious Violence | Peter J. Leithart

William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.  Hardback, 285 pp, $49.95.

In the beginning was religion, and only religion.

Now religion was irrational, absolutist, and divisive, and so chaos was on the face of the earth.  Religion drove kings mad.  Because of religion, because religion was all, Catholics killed Protestants, Protestants killed Catholics, and both Protestants and Catholics killed pagans across the seas.  And darkness covered the face of the earth.

And from the darkness, far in the West, came the Liberal State, and the Liberal State said, Let there be light.  And there was light.  And the darkness was afraid.

And in the Liberal State there was no religion.  And the Liberal State called itself Secular.  And it was so.

And the Liberal State said, Let us divide religion from life, and, lest the darkness return, let us place between religion and life a firmament that cannot be crossed.  Let us bury religion deep in the heart of man, where it can do some small good but no harm.  And let us make religion innocuous and rational.

And the magicians and sorcerers and court prophets shouted and said, All you have commanded, so shall we do.

And it was so.  And the Liberal State saw that it was good.

And peace dripped like honey from the rock and flowed like wine from the mountains.  Lions supped with lambs.  All nations rejoiced in the Liberal State, for its mercy endures forever.

And still the darkness grew strong.  It wept and called itself Beck.  It raged and grew a beard and called itself bin Laden.

And the Liberal State said, The darkness has grown strong and will soon be as one of Us.  We must grow stronger, for we are light and light must triumph over darkness.

And the Liberal State said, Eternal vigilance is the price of secularity.

And all the peoples said, Amen, and Amen.  Most of them, anyway.


Now there came a man whose name was Bill, bearing a stack of books written by the magicians and the sorcerers and the court prophets.

And Bill said, The Liberal State lies.  The Liberal State pretends save us from chaos but it does not.  The Liberal State creates the chaos.

And Bill laid the stack of books before them and said, Not one of you knows what religion is.

And the Liberal State said, Religion is man’s relationship with God.

And Bill said, What about Buddhists?

And the Liberal State stuttered and said, No, no.  We mean religion is ultimate concern.

And Bill said, Then are your own nationalisms and statisms, your own Marxisms and capitalisms and socialisms all religions as well.

And the Liberal State cleared its throat nervously and said, No, no.  We mean religion is whatever a man is worth dying or killing for.

And Bill answered and said, Then saying “religion causes violence” is saying “things we consider worth killing for lead to killing.”   Enough of your tricks and incantations!  Sophist!

And the Liberal State was abashed, as were all its magicians and sorcerers and court prophets.

And Bill answered and said, None of you has named religion for all times and for all places.  No such name exists.

And the Liberal State answered and said, Religion is private and interior, dogmatic and creedal.

And Bill said, In the beginning it was not so.  By your own myth, it was not so.  Many religions have no books or creeds or dogmas.  Many religions are public and exterior.  Your naming of religion dawned from the West.  The name “religion” as you use it is not true in all times and in all places.  Away with your acrobatics, for they have made many dizzy.

And Bill answered and said, for he was wroth, Generation of vipers!  By pointing to the bad violence of those you name “religious,” you ignore other violence, the “good” violence that you yourselves commit.

And the Liberal State said, Yes, but people do bad things in the name of religion.

And Bill said, Yea and verily.  People do violence in the name of religion.  I have not been sent to deny that “religious” people are violent.  I have not been sent to say that “secularists” do just as much violence as religious people, though that may well be true.  I have been sent with one message: Your naming of “religion” dissolves into nothing, and nothing that has dissolved can help us understand why men act with violence.

And the Liberal State was the more thoroughly abashed.  And the magicians murmured and some slipped quietly away.

And yet the Liberal State spoke again and said, But what of the wars of religion?  Did We not learn our lesson?  Did We not come to save the world from the violence of religion?

And Bill pointed to the stack of books and said, The wars of religion were not so.  The books lie, and the truth is not in them.  In these wars, members of the same church killed one another, members of different churches fought together.  You believe these wars were religious and not something else because you are naming something “religion” that did not then exist.

And Bill answered and said, for he burned with anger, These wars were not religious wars, but wars to build your power.  Kings pretended to fight for religion, while they killed rivals to make themselves stronger.  Kings pretended to fight for religion, while they fought the church, taking power and property from the church.  You, the State, are not savior but the bringer of violence.

And the Liberal State was silent, knowing that Bill spoke the truth.

And Bill answered and said, The name “religion” you use was invented during the “wars of religion,” invented to help you build a firmament between religion and life, and to make it look as if you were the savior.  “Religion” as you describe it was not the cause but the result of the “wars of religion,” as was the name “secular.”

And Bill answered again and said, The states built from the rubble of these wars were confessional states and absolutist states.  The Liberal State came much later, but you justified yourself by convincing everyone that they had saved Europe from religion.

Now only a few sorcerers and magicians and court prophets remained.

And still the Liberal State continued and said, If you are right, then why do so many fear, love, and trust us as Savior?  Can so many people be so wrong?

Now Bill had thought long and deeply about this question.  He meant to trap the Liberal State in this trap.  He smiled a cunning smile and said, Who benefits?  Who profits from your lie?

And he answered and said, You profit!  Your naming of religion is useful to you.  By it, you allow people to do some things in public, things you name “secular.”  And by it, you do not allow people to do other things in public, things you name “religious.”  By it, you pretend that you are protecting us from violent “religion” so that we will love you.  By it, you stir up patriotic zeal that looks just like “religion” but which you name “secular.”  By it, you demand that young men offer their lives as sacrifices to you, while telling us that other young men who offer their lives as sacrifices to God are nutty.  By it, you encourage large crowds to wave flags at fighter jets, but do not allow small crowds of children to pray at school.  By it, you prove that the West is superior to the rest.  By it, you excuse yourself for dropping bombs on all the rest who have not learned about the firmament established between religion and life, all who are not as you are.

And he looked, and behold, the Liberal State was gone, and only one of the sorcerers, magicians, and court prophets remained.

And the one remaining magician said, If the Liberal State does not save us, who will?  What shall we do to be saved?

But the words of Bill were ended.

And the remaining magician looked and, behold, the land was filled with the bodies of Bill’s enemies.

And he said, For a pacifist, Bill leaves a lot of carnage behind.


And the remaining magician, an American one, answered and said, What about the First Amendment?

And another voice, not the voice of Bill, answered and said, The Constitution does not know what religion means.  The Liberal State has established its religion, a religion named “secular,” and woe be to the heretics.  And America is the most Liberal of the Liberal States.

And the remaining magician, the American one, answered and said, What about the war on terror?

And another voice, not the voice of Bill, answered and said, It is a religious war, a war between the religion named “secular” and the religion named “Islamicism.”

And the one remaining magician, the American one, answered again and said, If the Liberal State does not save us, who will?  What shall we do to be saved?

And another voice, not the voice of Bill but a voice from heaven, answered and said, Kiss the Son, lest He be angry.

 posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 1:09 am

The Curse of Motivational Speaking | A Repost by Conrad Mbewe

The Curse Of Motivational Speaking

Last Sunday, a young man came to see me after our church service. He is the kind of guy who shows up at church once in a while and then disappears for a season. My guess is that he goes around churches sampling sermons and looking for answers. On this visit, he asked that I help him to overcome a failure in his life, and it was a failure to progress. He said that his greatest problem is that he does not believe in himself. Could I help him believe in himself so that he could become successful?

I asked him whether he was a Christian. His answer was, “Do I really need to be a Christian in order to be successful? Are you telling me that all those successful people out there are Christians? Aren’t there general principles that I can apply to my life—whether I am a Christian or not—that can catapult me to success?” I challenged him to answer that question himself. After all, I was sure he had done enough rounds among motivational speakers to have the answer.
“That is the problem,” he said, “I have been told that such principles exist and I have tried them. They seem to work for a while and then I am back to my old self again. I want you to help me find that formula that will help me go forward and never slide back to the place where I do not believe in myself.” To cut the long story short, I finally persuaded him of the need for reconciliation with God before anyone can break free from the frustrating rut that God locks unreconciled sinners in.
I gave him a booklet to read, entitled, What is a Biblical Christian? When we met the following day, he was honest enough to tell me that he was disappointed with what he read because it was not telling him what he wanted to hear. “What I want to know is how I can be successful. This booklet did not say anything about that.” I repeated what I told him earlier. What he needed was not belief in himself but belief in a Saviour sent from heaven. He needed forgiveness as a foundation for his life.

Yesterday, a church member told me that he met the young man in the local market. He had two booklets in his hands. The first was the one I had given him and the second one was by Joel Osteen. He told our member, “Pastor Mbewe gave me this book but I don’t like it because it makes me feel guilty. I prefer this one by Joel Osteen because it lifts me up. It motivates me.” I am very concerned about this and so I decided to put some thoughts together about the curse of motivational speaking.
Sadly, motivational speaking has become the staple diet of many evangelical pulpits. The message being heard is, “God has put the potential in you and all you need to do is believe in yourself to unlock that potential. Have a grand vision and live out that vision. You must be a man or woman of destiny and the sky will be the limit for you. Don’t let your past failures get in your way of success. Look beyond them, as Jesus looked beyond the cross and thus overcame it. You are the head and not the tail. ”
In the light of the plethora of motivational speaking, it begs the question, “Is this how Old Testament and New Testament preachers preached?” If I summarise the preaching of Noah, Moses, Elijah, Isaiah, Jonah, Paul, Peter, etc., in the Bible, is this the kind of message that I will find there? I do not think so. Granted, motivational speakers borrow words from these men, but borrowing someone’s words is not the same thing as saying what he is saying. “A text without a context is a pretext.”
My chief quarrel with motivational speaking is that it reduces God to a means rather than an end. Men and women are not made to see that the nature of SIN lies in the letter “I” in the middle of the word. Instead, motivational speaking feeds that same ego and points to God as the one who can spoil it to the point of intoxication. That is a lie! It is God alone who must be at the centre of our lives. Christianity demands a dying to self, a taking up of one’s cross, and a following after a suffering Saviour.
Whenever I listen to motivational speaking, I seem to hear the message, “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace. It sounds to me like a doctor assuring a patient who has terminal cancer in its final stages that he should not worry because all will be okay if he only believes in himself. The guy is dying, man, for crying out loud! It is the height of insincerity if a preacher knows that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) and instead makes those heading for the slaughterhouse feel nice.
Motivational speaking makes people feel good, whereas the gospel first makes people feel bad—until they find their all in Christ. True preaching must make people face the fact that they are living in rebellion against God and that they need to repent or they will perish. It is only as people recognise this and cry out, “What shall we do to be saved?” (Acts 2:37, 16:30) that true preaching gives them the good news, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Motivational speaking is an attempt at trying to kill a charging lion with a pea-gun, using freshly cooked peas, spiced with the most aromatic seasonings. The aroma may be tantalizing to the taste buds, but it is totally useless in bringing down that ferocious beast. Men and women outside Christ are DEAD in trespasses and sins. Exciting their senses with nice-sounding platitudes will not give them life. They need the law to kill their fallen egos and the gospel of Jesus Christ to give them life.
I know that motivational speaking is filling up our church buildings until they look like football stadiums. In this world of misery and gloom, we can all do with some encouragement. But is that all that we were called to do as preachers? What good is it if men feel inspired and motivated, and then go back home to live a life of sin and selfishness? Sadly this is the norm in so many evangelical churches. The churches are filled to capacity with people determined to drink sin like water the whole week.
Motivational speaking is not biblical preaching. It is a blight on the landscape of true evangelicalism. It is filling the churches with dead people who are being told to live as if they are alive. We need to return to the good old gospel that truly gives life to the dead and sets men and women free. Like Paul of old, every truly evangelical pulpit must sound out the clear message of “repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Let us get rid of this curse of motivational speaking!
Posted by at 8:30 AM