Is Religion a Force for Peace?

ACCLAIMED by some as the holiest church in Christendom, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has also become a symbol of religious strife and hostility. According to tradition, the church marks the place “where Christ is supposed to have been buried and to have risen from the dead.” However, this revered site has also been the stage for many violent confrontations. Monks and priests from six different “Christian” denominations have attacked one another over issues of church-usage rights. The rivalry has intensified in recent years. Riot police armed with assault rifles have had to intervene and take temporary control of the church.

A History of Violence

The events at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are part of a long history of bloodshed and carnage linked to religious fervor. In a review of recent conflicts in different parts of the world, the book Violence in God’s Name says: “From Indonesia to Northern Ireland, the Middle East to Kashmir, India to Nigeria, the Balkans to Sri Lanka, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs justify the use of violence on the grounds that they are protecting their religious identity and interests.”

Yet, most religions embrace peace and harmony as central tenets. Through the ages, altruistic principles such as love of neighbor and the sanctity of human life have been ardently promoted by religion. Should not religion, then, exercise its formidable powers in behalf of peace? Sincere worshippers do well to examine this question.