Our lives are always at risk, whether by the actions of other humans—as we have seen in the recent tragic events in Jakarta and Burkina Faso—or by simpler causes such as uncommonly tumultuous weather, as proved heartrendingly fatal in Sydney last week.
This article is concerned with violent conflict, considering the relationship between security and peace, particularly in the context of religion. I hope that my opinion will provide some interesting insight into the topic.
What's to blame for violence?
Some recent thinkers blame of a wide range of conflicts on religious beliefs, holding that religious beliefs are inherently problematic to peace. However, I do not think that this is the root of conflict. Rather we should look to lack of security as the cause of violent conflict. I think religious beliefs are only likely to incite violent conflict where believers are insecure and believe that violent acts will increase their security.
For instance, during several of the medieval crusades, most participating belligerents believed that heaven was not assured, or at least, that a time of suffering beforehand was likely. They were then encouraged to fight to win a reduction of this suffering. I expect current Islamic extremist groups use the insecurity of their believers to incite them to violent acts.
This insecurity is inconsistent with Jesus' statements that those who follow him are secure, such as this one recorded in the gospel according to John. 'Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.' (John chapter 6, Verse 47; see also John chapter 14, verses 2–3).
I believe this ultimate security is why Jesus is able to say to those who trust him that:
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.
- Luke chapter 6, verse 29
If Jesus does provide this security for his followers, being robbed is not a dreadful event, nor damage to the body or even death. This provides room for non-retaliation and selfless acts of compassion.
One may think of other religious groups with security regarding their bodies and material possessions, such as most Buddhist groups. However, most of these groups believe in removing attachments to the world and other people. I think if everyone followed this, violence might end, but I do not think that this is true peace.
I think true peace requires deeply caring relations between people. While one might seek to care for other people without following Jesus, I think these relationships need to be restored to perfection before true peace can exist. Humanity would need to be perfect to be able to create perfect relationships.
The Bible claims that Jesus, as God's perfect sacrifice, establishes the conditions for peace:
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace throughhis blood, shed on the cross.
- Colossians chapter 1, verses 19–20
If this is true, then God is restoring the relationships between all things, humans included. If we are perfected by this then true peace is possible.
To conclude, I do not think that religious beliefs are generally problematic to peace, but rather, insecurity leads to violent conflict. This insecurity is incited in some beliefs and in some cases, this has encouraged violence. However, the ultimate security which beliefs such as Christianity provide—if they are correct—is conducive of non-violence. Moreover, if God is perfecting humanity, then the true peace of right relations between people becomes attainable.
Alex Gillespie is an undergraduate student from Wollongong now based in Sydney.
Alex Gillespie's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/alex-gillespie.html