Yale professor: Paris terrorism proves world religions need 'reformation'

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar)People light candles during a vigil in Kathmandu November 15, 2015, following the deadly attacks in Paris.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (Christian Examiner) – The connection between religion and violence, says Miroslav Volf, founding Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, is not exclusively the fault of the violence.

World religions could do more to prevent their being used for violent ends by social and political organizations, the professor asserts in an opinion in the Washington Post.

Put the glove of religion on the hand of either a revolutionary or a statesman, and religion will be pulled into the dynamics of cohesion, control, acquisition and maintenance of power, and the marking of boundaries — and will more likely than not turn violent.
- Miroslav Volf, Yale Center for Faith and Culture

"It is impossible to eradicate or quarantine religion," he said, although he acknowledged why religion-based terror attacks like that in Paris on Nov. 14 would tempt people to seek the end of religion. "Any attempt to do so would result in far more bloodshed than religious people have perpetrated throughout their long histories."

When religion turns violent, it can cause hostility, fear, and hatred. "In Paris as in many other places," Volf said, "the hands that pulled the triggers of Kalashnikov rifles and pulled the fuses of bombs to kill the innocent people belonged to men and women in whose hearts burned the fires of religious zeal.

"Far from being great, God might be thought terrible," the professor claims.

He added, "Put the glove of religion on the hand of either a revolutionary or a statesman, and religion will be pulled into the dynamics of cohesion, control, acquisition and maintenance of power, and the marking of boundaries — and will more likely than not turn violent."

Volf identifies a religion's affiliation with politics as a measure of its likelihood to embrace violence. "In other words, align moral self-understanding of society, state and religion, and even most peaceful religion will become ready to 'take up the gun,'" he said, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism in his evaluation.

He argues for a reformation or return among world religions to three fundamental tenets that will help protect religions from political ideologies. "Many world religions today and throughout history have not embraced certain values precisely because they have misperceived themselves as 'political religions' rather than politically engaged religions," Volf said.

The three values Volf discusses are not unfamiliar: equal value of every human life, freedom of religion, and separation of "religion and rule."

He calls for reformation of religion to keep religion from being implicated every time a religious person fires a gun: "For the sake of the identity and reputation of the religions themselves and for the sake of justice and peace in the world, religions need permanent reformation."

The professor, whose forthcoming book investigates the relationship between religion and globalization, cites early Christianity as successful at separating religion and politics.

"At the heart of reformation must lie the conviction that, as the Apostle Peter put it in the first public sermon he preached, that 'we must obey God rather than any human authority' (Acts 5:29), asserting that 'religion' and 'state' are two distinct cultural systems. Such reformation of religions will not stop the blood and tears from flowing, but religions will no longer be implicated in the carnage."

Claiming that "religions become tools in the hands of the powers that be," Volf urges religions not to abandon the three tenets and risk tarnishing their peaceful reputations.