Extracting Violence Out of Religious Fervor: Islam and Christian
How can violence be extracted from religious fervor? A Florida pastor burns Korans and an image of Muhammad, because an Iranian pastor, who had converted to Christianity, was originally charged in Iran with apostasy and evangelization. A Shiite cleric, a member of the Iranian parliament called the Florida pastor “evil and apostate” and said that he must be executed. (New York Times, May 1, 2012, page A8)
To burn books is violent. There is no attempt at persuasion, no attempt to argue with reason, nor any reaching out with mutual friendship and acceptance in order to bring about the transformation of enemies into friends. Jesus bids us to love also our enemies. Like Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend!” That is love that knows the suffering of the cross.
To put the death penalty on apostasy, that is, someone converting to another religion, uses the threat of violence against the adherents of one’s own faith, making them un-free. Consequently, they are held in a faith without being there with their whole hearts. Then some people could participate in their faith heartlessly, ruthlessly. A religion should have the high standard of using persuasion alone, stirring and moving people’s hearts, and all coercion should be beneath it.
Thirdly, to call for the execution of the book-burner is religious fervor that has gone a long way out of bounds. It was back before 1520 that Luther was named a heretic for claiming that burning a heretic at the stake was against the will of the spirit – among other statements. (See Pope Leo X bull Exsurge Domine, assertion #33.) It took about three centuries before inquisitions ended in Portugal (1821) and Spain (1834). (The last auto-da-fe, that is, burning at the stake, took place in Mexico in 1850.) (Of course, Protestants were still hanging “witches” in Salem in 1692!)
Religious fervor needs to be separated from coercion. It follows from the separation of church and state, faith of the religion and reason and law of the state. Neither should our faith or church instigate the state to impose our faith on others, to impose laws on the behalf of a particular faith, and shed blood in a crusade or war on behalf of a faith. That makes religious violence more subtle, but just as real.
Taking violence out of faith, precedes taking it out of nationalism and patriotism, precedes taking it our of economics, taking it out of the government in the form of abolishing capital punishment, to taking it out of our society, out of our families, to a withering away of violence and coercion for the sake of a genuine faith, steadfast love, and good government.