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November 16, 2012
Diane Meredith

I am knee deep in papers, contact numbers, outlines, articles, all pertaining to the planning of an upcoming workshop in December on the Doctrine of Discovery. These were a series of Christian doctrines “papal decrees, and “bulls” as it were, that began even as far back as the 11th century but were more intensely applied and developed during the fanatic periods of European Christian colonization of the 15th and 16th centuries. In particular England, Spain, France, and Portugal issued competing decrees that provided Christian “explorers” the right to claim lands that they discovered either by occupying the land; “purchasing” the land; or laying claim to it by setting down symbols such as flags as to their ownership. Armed with distorted notions of the Christian God and mission, this legacy of “discovery,” was done with total disregard for the original inhabitants. In fact, “Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be discovered, claimed, and exploited if the pagan inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.” ( Doctrine of Discovery: Those so-called “pagans” included Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Muslims in the African Continent, and any other non-Christian communities abroad.

Does Religion cause Violence? Is there a relationship between faith and violence? Needless to say with the historical legacy of world-wide Christian colonization from the Doctrines of Discovery on my mind I was curious to attend the viewing of: Context with Lorna Dueck where these issues would be explored. The challenges of dealing with the serious question of the connection between faith and violence in short sound bites in a television show are apparent. That, not withstanding, I expected some powerful bites of discourse between people of different faiths as they grappled to discover those aspects of their faith that perpetuated violence or instilled peace. As is too often the case when individuals and nations alike speak to the issue of the theological and moral necessities of war and violence, it was the questions that were asked and those that remained in the void that for me skewed the conversations and missed the essential issues.

Lorna’s interview of renowned theologian, Miroslave Volf, speaks to this very problem. In one instance as Lorna explored the question of “Does religion cause violence,” she asked if Christ’s blood was necessary for the forgiveness of sins, and was not God’s sacrifice of the son, an act of violence. It was in short a rather blunt summary of “substitution/sacrifice” atonement theology, that being that “God sacrificed his only son for humanities sins, and this was predetermined and necessary.” Volf suggested this is not in fact the question at all. Instead he posed the following: “Why did God have to take sin of the world upon God’s self: I think that’s the question,” he says. “Why so necessary for God to take upon God’s self the sin of the world?” After which he clearly focused not on the “sacrificial” aspect of the son, but rather on a theology of the cross where forgiveness -- Not retribution -- is enacted and becomes the hallmark of Christian faith. In this atonement theology, the cross is the inevitable event when God refuses to punish humanity but instead points to love of enemy and neighbor; a model of life that can only be lived through deep forgiveness. Volf argued, the cross understood in this context is not a pre-determined sacrificial event but rather one where God is “taking the injury upon himself” and is the outcome of a life lived in opposition to greed, sin, oppression, and occupation by the Roman Empire. Hence, Volf argues: “the solution to religious violence is deepening our religious convictions as a Christian, namely aligning my life with Christ’s who said love your neighbor who said do unto others as you wish them to do for you…to forgive as you have been.”  See here, the question matters.  

Such was the case in the discussion Lorna also had with Raheel Raza and Nader Fawzy, both of who report they have fatwas placed on their lives. Through their conversation the violence of Muslims in Egypt against Coptic Christians and even in Canada by the Muslim brotherhood is emphasized. I have no doubt all of what they reported is true and serious. But, my question is if we are sincere about exploring the roots of violence and faith why is it that these two people both of whom have fatwas on their lives by sects of the Muslim community were chosen for this conversation? Was this show exploring “faith and violence,” or was it a show pointing to “the need for vigilance” as it pertained to Islamic extremism? After a conversation where they both explained their experiences with Islamic violence Lorna begged the question as to what was their advice in order to deal with religious violence. Raza for instance noted that “liberal political correctness in Canada is the problem preventing people from speaking out against the Muslim Brotherhood. Lorna, ended this conversation with this statement: “Thank you for the wake-up call both of you, that religious violence maybe closer to our Canadian neighborhoods than we wish it to be.” Again, I could not help but ask: Was this show exploring “faith and violence,” or was it a show pointing to “the need for vigilance” as it pertained to Islamic extremism and violence, especially in Canada?”

Ironically, it was one of Raza’s points that is worthy of emphasis. She mentioned it is incumbent upon the Muslim community itself to challenge extreme elements of its faith. Exactly I thought. Is this not so for all people of all faiths? Indeed, what was needed in an exploration of faith and violence was a panel of faith based Muslims, Jews, Christians, and perhaps even others willing to do some very hard internal reflection and critique on those very misinterpretations of the their sacred scripts that have allowed and perpetuated violence in the name of their Gods. Alongside of which the question (among many) could to be asked about the ways that alternative readings of scriptures have lead to powerful movements of non-violence and social change. These questions were left untouched. If we as people of faith are to be serious about our faith, as Volf is challenging us to be, then we need to look back and ask what is it that was done and what was left undone that we find ourselves in the situation where we feel the only option is violence. What are the steps toward peace making that were left untouched? Where in our joint histories did we fail to respect one another and uphold one another that we find ourselves enemies at this juncture? Until we take the steps toward peacemaking disarming our conditioned tendency toward oppressing the other; taking over the other; punishing and engaging in retribution instead of forgiveness we may well continue to find ourselves in this place of “justifying” war as the only option.


Diane is a long-time human rights advocate, peace activist, and theologian with a particular focus on refugees, women, Aboriginal sovereignty, mining injustice and resource extraction, and conflict de-escalation. Her commitment to non-violence and peace is informed by her Christian faith as it leads her to a deeper respect for people of all different and rich faith practices.



I agree with Peter and Diane's comments above. In addition, Christmas is a good time to show to our friends of other faiths in a real action-way, the goodwill, peace and love that Jesus came to communicate (love one another as I have loved you) by being loving and peaceful with those around us in society. Blessings!
December 2, 2012 | L.Warden

Thanks for taking a thoughtful critique of our time in the studio Diane - well done, and I appreciate the issues you raised. With thanks -- Lorna
November 30, 2012 | Lorna Dueck

Peter, thank you for opening up this conversation into a wider forum that requires a more thorough look into history past and more recent. There are so many groups that have engaged in and commit to a spiritual practice of non-violence as a way of social and spiritual transformation: the mystics; teachers; workers worldwide; student movements; religious communities; mothers etc. We need to access, teach, study, and follow this history.
November 24, 2012 | Diane

I would love to see a show focusing on 'religion and nonviolence', acknowledging the powerful nonviolent force that Jesus used and that people of faith use worldwide today. Too often we focus on 'violence or not-violence'; 'fight or flight' without recognizing that there is another way - Jesus' way of nonviolent opposition to injustice. Thanks for acknowledging the violence inherent in our world today in the very legal structures that established modern nations; marginalizing and destroying indigenous peoples in favour of the European ideas of economy and culture. That's another thing that people of faith need to wrestle with (and ideally, dismantle!) Jesus' example of reconciling love regardless of the personal cost is our model of (re)building our world. Blessings!
November 23, 2012 | Peter

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