Religion and Power Moving Forward into the Twenty-First Century: Responding to Religion and World Order
By Marc Gopin
Tom Banchoff’s essay raises important insights and deepens the discussion about the historical relations between organized religion now and in the future with secular forms of power, governance, and authority structures. Banchoff rightly warns that ignoring these trends is a grave mistake in assessing the future, in tracking what kind of balance and shift in balance of powers may be taking place. There is no question that political Islam has had an enormous impact on contemporary history, even though it is too early to say where this will lead.
I want to focus my thoughts and response on two aspects of religion that are often not distinguished sufficiently in terms of our subjects of power and religion as well as secular and religious sources of authority in history and going forward.
There are two essentially different elements of religion as a human phenomenon that often have little …
Sacrifice, the offering of the best of ourselves after failure, the offering of good intentions, does generate and germinate the sweet smell of acceptance, kindness, patience and tolerance, the creation of a space for both Jews and non-Jews to make amends for their imperfections. These sacrificial dreams are not such barbaric dreams and practices after all. Remove your mind’s fixation on its ancient incarnation with animals and blood, and instead see the animals and blood as the complete offering of oneself to spiritual life, to ethical life, to the life of a better tomorrow, to life beyond and despite imperfections. Once you offer up your own worst self as a peace offering to a neutral and sometimes hostile universe, suddenly there is the sweet smell of reconciliation. The air seems different, beauty reemerges, and so does hope.
An excerpt from my recent Huffington post blog post about how individuals, nations, and religion cope with catastrophe:
“I have seen my share of tragedy in the work I do, I have worked in conflict zones around the world for much of my life, especially in the Middle East. Nothing ever prepares you for the pain and suffering of parents who lose children to senseless warfare, or children bereft of family. No one prepares you for hundreds of Syrians in a desperate refugee camp coming up to you with agony in their eyes combined with respectful smiles, telling all the horror and not understanding a word of what they are saying. Nothing prepares you for the trauma of leaving them behind, pulling yourself from their arms and hands and fingers and mournful eyes, jumping back behind a barbed wire fence. They are traumatized and mourning, but so are you.
Religious Extremism Inside the State, a Poison We Can Eliminate With Good Ideas, Behaviors and Policies
Christian extremism in the U.S. Military, Muslim extremism in the new Egyptian Parliament, the worst kind of racism and fantasies of ethnic cleansing reaching the most official governmental positions of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. That is just the news from one week, and it all points to the same thing: religion is poison for the State and the State is poison for religion. Want to kill a religion? Give it power in the State. Want to save a religion from those men who would abuse it for their own violent fantasies? Deprive religion of all state power, and the maniacs lose interest in it.
The State is all about power, and we have learned from a long and painful human history that no one should be trusted with too much power. That is why religion should remain powerless, so that it can function as a place …
Here is in excerpt from my latest article co-authored with Aziz Abu Sarah.
…So now we have Christian funds from the United States that have effectively supported the misguided second and third generation settler youth who are actively attacking churches and referring to Jesus as a son of a whore. If this is what Pastor John Hagee and other radical Christians intended, then it suggests a rather bizarre theology of interfaith love and care. It seems in reality that these funds are intended to foment conflict, to promote a confrontational, apocalyptic and messianic end to the State of Israel….
This article was originally published on January 18th here.
At the beginning of December 2011, the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University convened a meeting of over twenty world famous Islamic scholars and dignitaries together with over one hundred and twenty clerics from every province of Afghanistan. The event was unprecedented in the history of Afghan conflict resolution. Never before had anyone brought together the beleaguered Imams of the Afghan provinces, men who had stood up for peace and risked their lives to fight against the misuse of their religion. These men stood witness as colleagues, who dared stand up at Friday prayer and advocate for Islam’s commitment to nonviolence, for women’s rights, and for tolerance, were assassinated by radical forces in the region and neighboring states whose only purpose was to keep the war going and Afghanistan divided. Nevertheless, these men …
Just a few days ago was the longest night of the year. Another way of looking at is that this was night in which the tide of darkness began to turn back in favor of light. Bunched around this time are so many ancient holidays of lights and candles, of which Hanukah and Christmas are but two. Ancient rabbinic tradition suggests that the purpose of the small light at night is to teach that it takes only the light of one individual candle to illuminate the darkness of an entire room—or the world.
Peering at small lights at night, meditating on them, also has another interesting impact. It makes the blinding light of the morning sun feel almost miraculous. Indeed, many of the pre-monotheistic nighttime celebrations of light at this time of year are actually celebrations of the birth of light, and particularly sunlight. There is an inescapable reality to …
(A version of this essay was recently published in The Jerusalem Report.)
Across the world in the last 40 years politically organized religious forces have played an increasingly important role in national politics. From India to Indonesia, from Lebanon to Israel, from the United States to Russia, organized religion has increased its impact on politics.
We are also aware of the frightening rise of very violent religion, expressed through terror groups. For this reason, it is easy to misunderstand the relationship between religion on the one hand and between states and ethnic groups and their very secular interests, on the other hand.
Precisely because so many millions of people care about religion, religion has become an essential tool of secular state and ethnic interests. Indeed, what may seem to be a religious issue often turns out to be very secular state interests. Missing this relationship, it becomes easy
Notice the pattern of conflict escalation, the role of religion, the focus on sexuality, women and the boundaries of group power, all focused on women, and all rather removed from any real spiritual matters. This is a classic example of religious rioting.
Like many recent episodes of Muslim-Christian violence here, the strife began over rumors of an interfaith marriage. Muslims in the neighborhood said a former Christian had left the church and married a Muslim. They said they had heard that she had been abducted and detained inside the church of St. Minas against her will, reflecting a pattern of accusations that has recurred in several recent episodes of sectarian conflict.
Christians in the neighborhood said that the story was a fiction, that there was no such woman in the church.
Both Muslims and Christians involved in the fighting said that early Saturday evening a relatively small group of Muslims