Are all human beings religious to some extent

Religion and Violence - an Inseparable Couple?

Most religions can justify non-violence theologically on their own - but also the use of force. By Stephan Peter Bumbacher, religious scholar

As part of nature, man is the bearer of biological and evolutionary heritage. This is older than any cultural achievement. But it also has a cultural heritage (language, religion, art, technology, etc.) and thus seems to be able to emancipate itself from nature to a certain extent. At Homo sapiens level, he succeeded in leaving the ancestral area in Africa, spreading across the entire globe and colonizing such diverse areas as the tropical rainforest, the desert and the Arctic, and even temporarily walking on the moon to put.

Religion wants to interpret - and determine

Religions as cultural phenomena do not only include models of interpretation - for example: The world created itself out of a primordial law (Tao) first in two "energies" (Yin and Yang) and finally in the multiplicity of phenomena. Or: It was created by a creator deity in six days. Rather, they also claim to normatively and legitimize the lives of their members: "You should not kill" or "fight for God's sake against those who fight against you".

Some of these norms are biologically unproblematic: "On the seventh day you should rest"; others try to radically deny biologically inherited behavior such as B. the celibacy regulation for Buddhist nuns and monks or for Catholic clerics - with psychological problems for those affected or abuse of their wards as a possible consequence.

With regard to the interpersonal use of violence, one can now ask about her biological status and the cultural, especially religious, treatment of her.

Is the killing of conspecifics against nature?

For a long time it was assumed that only man kills his own kind, since it can be proven in all cultures and up to prehistoric times that people attacked each other violently and often resulting in death. Konrad Lorenz still believed that the aggressive instincts of animals were kept in check by instinctive inhibitions to such an extent that conspecifics were not killed. However, field research over the past few decades has fundamentally refuted this view and has shown that violence against conspecifics is a widespread phenomenon in the animal kingdom.

A look at our genetically closest relatives, the chimpanzees, is particularly instructive in terms of observing violence perpetrated by groups against members of other groups. In the 1970s it was observed in several African field stations how groups of chimpanzees waged outright wars of extermination against others.

Jane Goodall reported from the Gombe Reservation in Tanzania how a group that had grown and in which internal tensions rose sharply, split into two groups. The smaller or "Kahama" group (including six adult males) migrated south and occupied a new territory of about ten square kilometers. The now reduced original "Kasakela" group (including eight adult males) lived in an area of ​​fifteen square kilometers. The two coexisted peacefully for a few months. Then, in January 1974, a troop from the "Kasakela" group set out to attack south for the first time, and within four years the "Kahama" group was completely eliminated by the northern group, with the males of both groups originally being blood relatives . The pattern of the attacks was always the same: several adult and some adolescent males as well as one or two adult females invaded the neighboring area, overpowered an unaccompanied male of the group there and fatally injured it.

Similar observations were made in the Kibale Reserve in Uganda and the Mahale National Park in Tanzania. The following characteristics are common to the violent behavior of chimpanzees:

► Males carry out severe attacks on members of other groups in a targeted manner.

► The attackers are practically exclusively males, females at most play the role of followers.

► The attacks do not come from individual perpetrators, but rather several males cooperate and are generally outnumbered in order to minimize their own risk of injury.

► The immediate aim of an attack is not to expel the other person, but rather to seriously injure or even kill them.

► Aggression between males within the same group rarely leads to serious injuries. The chimpanzees organize themselves into groups of males, whereby the common inhabited territory is obviously more important as an identification criterion than the original consanguinity.

There are surprising parallels in humans

The state of war between neighboring Yanomami villages (Venezuela) is chronic; in certain areas at least a quarter of all adult males die violently. The pattern is always the same: the men of the attacked villages are killed or chased away, children who have not yet been weaned are killed, and women of childbearing age are kidnapped and made concubines. Here, too, the actors are groups of men who see themselves as a community of those who inhabit a common territory (the village).

If a village gets too big and tensions get out of hand, some of the residents split off and emigrate. These groups now separate themselves from one another and can fight each other, regardless of the original family relationships.

Even if the forms of violence exercised by chimpanzees are generally less numerous, parallels are often drawn to this behavior, at least in hunting societies: In both cases, it is groups of men who - if they are in the majority - abuse, injure and kill non-group members. It can be concluded that the parallels, given the high genetic similarity between humans and chimpanzees, may be based on a common evolutionary heritage.

The group wants to set itself apart - with devastating consequences

In general, as a social being, the group forms the unity in humans, which outwardly demarcates itself from others, attacks those or defends itself against others. The jointly claimed territory can form the characteristic that establishes identity, but according to the complexity of humane societies, groups can also define themselves through completely different characteristics (kinship, activity, interests, etc.). For external identification, the group members wear clothes of the same style (traditional costume, uniform, hooligan costume), they use a common language (hunter's Latin, church Latin), a common set of values ​​that determine the behavior of the members, a ritual code and much more. One of the criteria for defining “we” versus “them” is the devaluation of others as inferior, e.g. B. as stupid, as barbarians or subhumans, as strangers.

Two cases of actual massacres from the early Neolithic can be cited as the results of violent group interactions: about 7010 before today the corpses of 18 adults and 16 children were thrown into a pit in Talheim (Baden-Württemberg) - all skeletons show fatal skull fractures and arrow injuries.

A good generation earlier and around 500 kilometers to the east, dozens of corpses were "disposed of" in Schletz (Lower Austria) in the trench of the fortified settlement. A newborn was also found among the 100 individuals recovered so far. All of them have one or more fatal skull fractures, which must have come from clubs and axes. All of the victims were slain from behind, while they were fleeing. - Internally, the group tries to maintain its coherence by punishing deviant behavior on the part of its members.

Religion distinguishes between "we" and "they"

In many cultures religion has a.o. the function of creating identity: the followers as a group define themselves as «orthodox», people of different faiths are marginalized as «unbelievers» or «pagans», if necessary destroyed by force of arms, if they cannot be forced to convert and integrated.

In the Hebrew Bible, for example, the distinction between "we" and "they" is concise. This text was used after the Babylonian exile among others. as a unifying religious history of the Israelite people. For this purpose, Israel had to be demarcated from the other peoples and these had to be presented as inferior.

In the words of Elaine Pagels in “Satan's Origin”: “When God promises Abraham to make him the father of a new great, blessed people, he denies and curses their enemies at the same time. From the beginning, the Israelite tradition declares the 'we' to be the 'people of Israel' or 'people of God' in ethnic, political and religious terms and contrasts it with 'them' - the (other) peoples ('ha gojim' in Hebrew) , the foreign enemies of Israel, who are often characterized as lesser, morally depraved, even cursed. In Genesis 16:12, an angel foretells that Ishmael, although the son of Abraham, the ancestor of the Arab people, will be a "wild man"; ‹His hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will dwell in spite of all his brothers›. The story goes that the descendants of Ishmael are also hostile and no better than the animals. Genesis 19, 37/38 adds that the Moabite and Ammonite peoples are descended from Lot's daughters, that is, they are illegitimate descendants of an intoxicated incest. "

Christians against pagans

A look at the Christian territory shows e.g. B. Charlemagne, who delimited his dominion as the Christian ("we") against that of the pagan Saxons ("they"), which was to be conquered. The war against the Saxons was religiously legitimized as the spread of true faith. Behind this, however, there was, on the one hand, the interest in expanding the sphere of power and, on the other hand, that of gaining booty, since the power of the Franks was largely based on the fact that their warriors were able to enrich themselves on campaigns.

While inwardly common offenses were punished relatively mildly according to Franconian law - a criminal offense could be "compared" or "replaced" in almost all cases by paying a fixed price for it - externally, it was dealt with with extreme severity when others acted Groups did not obey the will of the Franks: In a single day in 778, 4,500 rebellious Saxons were beheaded. The "others" were to be persecuted mercilessly as long as they wanted to remain "others"; the "ours" could - in the event of an offense - count on comparative leniency.

In 1096 Pope Urban II proclaimed the «armed pilgrimage» (the term «crusade» was only coined in the 13th century). He justified it with the atrocities with which Muslims would have treated Christians. Following the example of Charlemagne and others, it was necessary to "destroy the kingdoms of the Gentiles and to include them within the boundaries of the Holy Church". Bernhard von Clairvaux forbade any peace agreement with the Gentiles "until the time when, with God's help, they will either be converted or extinguished". The conquests of the First Crusade included a number of coastal cities in the eastern Mediterranean. After Muslim shipmen had ruled the Mediterranean Sea and controlled maritime trade in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Christians gradually succeeded in displacing not only the Byzantine ships, but also the ships of Islam, to the advantage of the Italian port cities of Genoa , Pisa and Venice.

The history of Buddhism also knows violence

"Saddharmalankara", written by a Theravada monk in the 14th century, tells how the Buddhist King Dutthagamani brought the entire island of Sri Lanka under his rule. The goal was a political one: the control of the Sinhalese over the Tamil part of the island. The reason, however, was a religious one: the restoration of Buddhism all over the island.

Towards the end of his life, the king was concerned that he was threatened with a bad rebirth because of the many Tamils ​​killed. Buddhist monks reassured him by pointing out that “although you have killed such a multitude of Tamils, there is no danger to your future well-being in the divine worlds (...). Of these Tamils ​​it was only one who accepted the five precepts of the lay Buddhist followers and one who turned to the three refuges of Buddhist monks and nuns. That's why you only killed one and a half human beings! "

Violence to unite the group

Groups also use internal violence to stabilize their identity and coherence. In societies whose identity is guaranteed by a religion and in which religion is adequately linked to state power - for example through the fact that it is religiously legitimized - people can question important aspects of religion and thus indirectly the power structure as such , banished from the group, imprisoned or killed to ensure stability.

A well-known example is Jesus, whose reinterpretation of Jewish teaching brought him into opposition to the group of traditional priests and scribes and made him the founder of a new religious group. As a result, for the followers of the traditional interpretation, the "temple establishment", he became an "other" and as such was evidently such a great danger that he had to be executed.

In the Greek culture, Socrates should be mentioned, whose philosophical work, according to Plato, earned him the charge of "disregarding the old gods, introducing new demonic beings and corrupting the youth". He, too, questioned the identity-creating religion in the eyes of those in power, so much so that the group defined by it no longer saw him as belonging to itself and assumed that he could establish a counter-group to the traditional - and state power - could be dangerous. So he was sentenced to death.

How are religion and violence connected?

Violence by humans against humans appears to have come from an evolutionary legacy. It is therefore older than Homo sapiens. The practice of this use of force is older than the religions.

Although most religions aim at non-violence and can justify it theologically and demand it from their members, the same religions can also legitimize the use of violence theologically.

Religious violence is religiously legitimized violence to enforce interests such as the stabilization or expansion of one's own group or the access of one's own group to power, territories and resources.

Stephan Peter Bumbacher is Professor of Sinology and Religious Studies at the University of Tübingen, he also teaches Sinology at the University of Zurich and Comparative Religious Studies at the University of Basel.

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