"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Myth of Religious Violence

I remember reading, a good dozen years ago now, an article by William Cavanaugh  which totally up-ended my understanding of the origins of religious conflict in the West. In his  "A Fire Strong Enough to Consume the House:' The Wars of Religion and the Rise of the State" (Modern Theology 11 [1995]: 397-420) Cavanaugh demonstrated with breathtaking skill and considerable evidence that the idea the modern state was invented to keep Christians from killing one another was tendentious rubbish--a founding "myth" of the state in order to justify the state's monopoly on violence. Far from being the "wars of religion" that caused the birth of the state, the state came into existence for quite other reasons and then used this idea of religious conflict to justify itself. He has returned to this theme in another recent article ("Killing for the Telephone Company," which borrows considerably from Alasdair MacIntyre), and then expanded  all this now into a formidable book:

W.T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict (Oxford UP, 2009), 296pp.

This will be reviewed in Logos: A Journal of Eastern Christian Studies next spring.

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