Above is a submachine gun with the French words – Ceci n’est pas une religion. It’s a play on Magritte’s famous The Treachery of Images – but that is an art history lesson for another day.
The image (which I wish I could cite the artists for) is undoubtably circulated as comment on recent attacks in Paris by extremists. It is meant to sever the link between an ideal of religion and violence in the name of that religion. But is it true? Does violence really have nothing to do with religion?
I think we are deceiving ourselves if we say it doesn’t. Religion can fuel violence. Whether it is a primary cause of violence is another matter. We can not, however, say that it has nothing to do with violence. Religious people have caused violence. Sometimes, their religion serves as an inspiration for their violence even if it is not the only one.
As a Christian it would be silly for me to say one belief system has a monopoly on violent acts. But what I can say, humbly but confidently, is that Christian faith makes no room for violence in the name of God.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:9
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
True Christianity, does not, can not endorse violence in the name of itself. Other religions may, however, and it is folly to assert that they don’t. History is filled with religious violence. History is filled with religious violence wearing a Christian gloss.
This is not to say there is not place for defensive violence. Christianity has a rich history of pacifism – of which I am not a part. There may be, and I would argue that there is, a place for Christians to serve the common good by being a police officer, let’s say. But one does not need to be a strict pacifist to hold to the truth that authentic, apostolic, Jesus Christianity leaves no room for retaliation, vengeance, aggression, or defence of our God’s honour.
But it is possible that many religions do. We must be even more careful then, to flee from false religion and embrace the Gospel.