Monday, January 18, 2010

Is religion divisive?

Anthony Esolen, one of our Modern Wise Men, in the course of explaining Christian unity, answers the common charge that religious is divisive:
I have long claimed that people who castigate religion for being divisive either do not know what they are talking about, or secretly fear the power of religion not to divide but to unite -- and, specifically, to unite against them and their own unacknowledged interests. First, while it is true that Islam has had bloody borders, it is not otherwise true that most wars have been fought over religion. A cursory look at history shows that wars are fought over territory, or goods, or either of those masquerading as an offended national pride. Rome fought wars almost constantly, from the time the Romans wriggled out from under their Etruscan overlords, to the time the last emperor was send packing to a monastery by Odoacer, and none of those wars were wars of religion. The Greek city states were ever quarreling, although they shared pretty much the same religion; and indeed, religion was one of the few things that could suffice to unite them in celebrating the games, or driving out the Persian invaders. Nationalist wars were fought under the guise of religion for a relatively brief time during the early modern period, but a glance at what France was doing under Francis I, or under Richelieu, should dispel the notion that religion, rather than what was perceived as the national interest, was the main motivation for French foreign policy. I say this, knowing full well that people hardly need an excuse to pick a fight -- and that religion will sometimes serve the purpose.
Read the rest here.


Lee said...

I'm a Christian, but even I have to admit there is a divisive element to Christianity.

Matthew 10:22 "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."

Matthew 10:34-38 -- "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

There's a lot of such talk by Jesus, and derivative talk by Paul, about what the world thinks of Christians.

But who said divisiveness is always a bad thing? If the world is going to Hell, should Christians go along for the sake of unity? I find the appeal for unity is usually an appeal not to disagree, or at least to assent -- "Quit being divisive and start agreeing with me." I say it takes two to be divisive.

Art said...

I'm amazed at how much historical revision is needed to make Esolen's thesis. It's like, in writing his essay, he chose to ignore many centuries of European history.

And then there's the rest of the world. I realize that nothing but "the West" exists in the minds of those educated in the "classical"" tradition, but still ....

Lee said...

In all comparisons, it's a good thing to have a baseline. Why, it's even scientific. For Christianity, our baseline is the world before Christ. If you like the way moral philosophy and practice has developed, particularly in Western civilization, since the societies that invented crucifixion and child sacrifice, you would have to tip your hat at least in the direction of Christianity.

And if you choose to focus instead on the failures of the Christian moral order, then of course you can condemn such ideas and actions as failed.

But please, for the sake of coherence, judge Christianity by the standards that existed prior to Christianity. If we're going to condemn it, after all, it might help not to have to borrow from its moral principles in order to do so.