Vegetarian Ideal

Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.
- Albert Einstein

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence

Does religion lead to violence? This is the question that Karen Armstrong, the erudite former nun, asks in Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. Her answer is “no”—or more specifically, that religion is not itself a source of violence and the problem lies more deeply in “our human nature and the nature of the state.” To prove her point, she covers roughly five thousand years of religious history, from Gilgamesh to the present day. Along the way, she builds the case against those who state, often without much context, that “religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history.” This is both an apologia and a wide-ranging and very readable lesson in the history of religion. It may not completely change the mind of everyone who reads it; but like everything Armstrong writes, it will leave them more enriched. –Chris Schluep

In these times of rising geopolitical chaos, the need for mutual understanding between cultures has never been more urgent. Religious differences are seen as fuel for violence and warfare. In these pages, one of our greatest writers on religion, Karen Armstrong, amasses a sweeping history of humankind to explore the perceived connection between war and the world’s great creeds—and to issue a passionate defense of the peaceful nature of faith.

       With unprecedented scope, Armstrong looks at the whole history of each tradition—not only Christianity and Islam, but also Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Judaism. Religions, in their earliest days, endowed every aspect of life with meaning, and warfare became bound up with observances of the sacred. Modernity has ushered in an epoch of spectacular violence, although, as Armstrong shows, little of it can be ascribed directly to religion. Nevertheless, she shows us how and in what measure religions came to absorb modern belligerence—and what hope there might be for peace among believers of different faiths in our time.

Today's selection -- from Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong. In the first Christian Crusade against Muslims in 1099 AD, the Muslims were astonished by the Crusader's violence:

"War has been aptly described as 'a psychosis caused by an inabil­ity to see relationships.' The First Crusade was especially psychotic. From all accounts, the Crusaders seemed half-crazed. For three years [on their march from Europe to Jerusalem] they had had no normal dealings with the world around them, and pro­longed terror and malnutrition made them susceptible to abnormal states of mind. They were fighting an enemy that was not only culturally but ethnically different -- a factor that, as we have found in our own day, tends to nullify normal inhibitions -- and when they fell on the inhabi­tants of Jerusalem, they slaughtered some thirty thousand people in three days. 'They killed all the Saracens and Turks they found,' the author of the Deeds of the Franks reported approvingly. 'They killed everyone, male or female.' The streets ran with blood. Jews were rounded up into their synagogue and put to the sword, and ten thousand Muslims who had sought sanctuary in the Haram al-Sharif were brutally massacred. 'Piles of heads, hands and feet were to be seen,' wrote the Provencal chronicler Raymond of Aguilers: 'Men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers.' There were so many dead that the Crusaders were unable to dispose of the bodies. When Fulcher of Chartres came to celebrate Christmas in Jerusalem five months later, he was appalled by the stench from the rotting corpses that still lay unburied in the fields and ditches around the city. 

Capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders

"When they could kill no more, the Crusaders proceeded to the Church of the Resurrection, singing hymns with tears of joy rolling down their cheeks. Beside the Tomb of Christ, they sang the Easter liturgy. 'This day, I say, will be famous in all future ages, for it turned our labors and sorrows into joy and exultation,' Raymond exulted. 'This day, I say, marks the justification of all Christianity, the humiliation of paganism, the renewal of faith.' Here we have evidence of another psychotic disconnect: the Crusaders were standing beside the tomb of a man who had been a victim of human cruelty, yet they were unable to question their own violent behavior. 
The ecstasy of battle, heightened in this case by years of terror, starvation, and isolation, merged with their religious mythology to create an illusion of utter righteousness. But victors are never blamed for their crimes, and chroniclers soon described the con­quest in Jerusalem as a turning point in history. Robert the Monk made the astonishing claim that its importance had been exceeded only by the creation of the world and Jesus's crucifixion. As a consequence, Mus­lims were now regarded in the West as a 'vile and abominable race,' 'despicable, degenerate and enslaved by demons,' 'absolutely alien to God,' and 'fit only for extermination.' ...

"The Muslims were stunned by the Crusaders' violence. By the time they reached Jerusalem, the [Crusaders] had already acquired a fear­some reputation; it was said that they had killed more than a hundred thousand people at Antioch, and that during the siege they had roamed the countryside, wild with hunger, openly vowing to eat the flesh of any Saracen who crossed their path. But Muslims had never experienced anything like the Jerusalem massacre. For over three hundred years they had fought all the great regional powers, but these wars had always been conducted within mutually agreed limits. Muslim sources reported in horror that the Franks did not spare the elderly, the women, or the sick; they even slaughtered devout ulema, 'who had left their homelands to live lives of pious seclusion in the holy place.' "


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