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Religion — Cure or Cause of Conflict?

23 Feb 2004 – Presented by Brother David Carroll, F.S.C., Ph.D., to the Islamic/Roman Catholic Dialogue of the Archdiocese of New York

23 February 2004

The Islamic Cultural Center of New York1711 Third AvenueNew York, New York

The topic of violence in the world’s societies is often raised in light of the media’s tendency to link religious confessional belief to acts of violence. Thus the question, “Is religion a cure or cause of conflict?”


In the Book of Genesis we are told that after each day of creation, God looked upon his work and saw that it was good. Pleased with his creations, God rested on the seventh day. Today we find that much of creation is spoiled and that many of the creatures who were to enjoy that creation are at enmity with one another. A recent report from the United Nations informs us that some 32 armed conflicts in various parts of the world can be classified as wars or rebellions. Weapons are needed for these. Scarce resources buy arms not food. The arms suppliers of the major industrial nations are joined by China, South Korea, Israel and Brazil in competing for the sale of weapons.

Clearly something has gone amiss with God’s creation. Have the religions of the world played a role in this disastrous state of affairs? Where have God’s people been when conflict and violence have plagued the fabric of human society?

Essential to the understanding of society is the fact that religion constitutes a key element in the formation of society. The history of human societies is replete with people attempting to comprehend the world about them and to understand the possible relationship that this might reflect with some creator or supreme being. Attempts to codify and institutionalize their beliefs have led to a diversity of religious systems around the globe. These systems have in many instances become an intimate part of cultural traditions. They have become identified with groups and in some cases have become integral elements within specific nation-states. In some instances religion is inextricably interwoven into the very psyche of a people.

Thus complexity has been introduced into society. The threads of religious truth have become tied to economic and/or political imperatives. Religious rituals have become entangled with social ideologies. Does religion so intertwined with these aspects of society cause conflicts? Is religion one of the causes of conflicts? Or is religion being used as a cover for other causes that might be cultural, economic or political? It is at this level that we must deal with the complexity of human motivation.


Let us examine symbolism or, as it were, the sacralization of the mundane. Sam Keen, in a book entitled “The Faces of the Enemy,” speaks of “War as Applied Theology”:

God and country may be quite separable in theory, but in day-to-day politics and religion they are fused. God sanctifies our social order, our way of life, our values, our territory. Thus, warfare is applied theology (p. 27).

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