In the first part of a two-day religion and violence conference, held at the Oviatt Library on March 14, four panelists presented varying views on whether religion innately promotes or restrains violence.
The guest speakers presented their arguments on Judaism and Christianity’s influence on war and violence, while two CSUN religious studies professors responded to their points of view.
Dr. Joseph Runzo, director and co-founder of the Global Ethics and Religion forum and philosophy and religious studies professor at Chapman University, said Christianity is a religion that is essentially pacifist.
Dr. Aryeh Cohen, assistant professor of Rabbinic literature at the University of Judaism, who spoke on the Jewish tradition, said less about the Bible’s direct references to violence and instead stressed the Torah’s use of violent metaphors to show possible correlations between real violent acts and the symbolic violent language.
“The metaphors used in Talmud (the book that explains the Torah) in discussing the Torah are violent metaphors,” Cohen said. In one of many examples he offered, the study of the Torah is compared to one’s sharpening of their swords. And that language, Cohen said, can affect the reader.
“It is not a big jump to go from intellectual violence to physical violence,” he said.
Cohen said that on one hand violent metaphors in the Bible are an expression of the seriousness of the message. On the other hand, he said, it is a reenactment of the theomachy, where God battles other gods and creates the world after defeating them.
Jody Myers, CSUN religious studies professor, said that at the time of the Roman Empire, rabbis used violent language to explain the Torah, and to prevent Jews from rebelling.
“They realized you can’t fight the Roman Empire and win,” Myers said. Each time Romans were merciless and many Jews were killed, she said.
But Myers said in the late 1800s, Jewish people living in Russia, Turkey and Western Europe began to think religion was making them passive victims.
From this point, Jewish religion also became associated with an ethnicity, Myers said. She said David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, was an atheist, and that Zionism began to take form in order to conceal Jews from further persecution.
Ben-Gurion quoted religious texts because he was trying to say Jewish people had been looking for change for a long time, Myers said.
Mutumbo Nkulu-N’Sengha, CSUN professor of religious studies, responded to Runzo’s idea that “true religion” is what leads to warfare. The notion of a true god or true religion makes other people with different gods and religions the enemy by creating an outsider, Nkulu-N’Sengha said. “Can God provide true religion to one group?” Nkulu-N’Sengha asked.
Runzo spoke of a “just war” theory in which people believe war is not justified unless it is used as a last possible resort.
“In the middle, the ‘just war’ people say, sometimes under the right conditions (war) is justified,” Runzo said.
Runzo said he believes “just war” theory works in certain cases of genocide when intervention is required.
Achieving positive peace – not just absence of war by peace as an end to itself – by way of peace, is the goal of the “just war” theory, Runzo said.
He noted, however, that motives of intervention need to be obvious, visible and purely humanitarian.