Religion, which is a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices, serves the purpose of establishing rules and principles in a society. When studying various religions, it becomes apparent that the principles instilled are those that are morally just. Each major religion specifically addresses the issue of violence, and the vast majority condemns such actions. Individuals following a particular religion are expected to follow the rules and principles established which theoretically should create a world that is morally righteous and free from violence. Such is not the case, however, and society must constantly correct immoral actions performed by certain individuals. These individuals originate from diverse backgrounds and religions, and therefore no specific religion can be solely liable. Therefore, it becomes necessary to determine how violence and religion can simultaneously exist because the natures of these two elements seem to be contradictory. Two particular explanations, which introduce historical examples, illustrate how these two entities can coexist. One explanation states that certain individuals feel that violence is relatively harmless, and therefore feel no remorse in performing violent acts. This explanation incorporates classical historical texts, which imply that violence is an essential element of life. Another explanation states that certain individuals feel that violent acts are justified as a means of propagating the faith. This explanation points out that the survival and expansion of religion through violent acts is acceptable. These two rationalizations help explain how such variance can exist between religious dictation and the actual practice of individuals in society.
The concept that certain individuals regard violence as relatively harmless provides one explanation of how these two issues concurrently exist. These individuals feel that violent acts are not as immoral as perceived by other members of society and by certain religions. Violence, from their perspective, is an act that cannot be avoided because survival demands some form of violence. These opinions are somewhat validated by the Bhagavat Gita, which is a classic Hindu epic that contains several meaningful elements. In this epic, the main character named Arjuna is preparing for battle with persons against whom he must fight which includes family, friends, and respected acquaintances. The struggle in the Bhagavat Gita is an internal moral struggle within Arjuna because he does not wish to inflict harm upon those that he respects. Arjuna, longing for the moral answer to the dilemma, asks the Hindu god Krishna for assistance with the situation. Krishna then informs Arjuna as to the appropriate actions that should be performed and teaches Arjuna a valuable lesson. This lesson directly applies to the topic of religion and violence and simultaneously justifies the existence of violence. Krishna explains to Arjuna that death is certain for the born and that rebirth is certain for the dead.
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He continues to say that the body may cease to exist, but the soul of the individual cannot be destroyed. Krishna is implying that although Arjuna may have to battle and kill his kinsmen, he is merely ending their physical life and cannot end their spiritual nature. Therefore, violence should not be seen as dishonest action because, from religious perspectives, individuals are not truly lifeless. The moral that Krishna instills into Arjuna is that violence, which in this instance involves battle, is occasionally necessary and justified. In this case, Arjuna must fight because otherwise he would be refusing his duty as a warrior and submitting to the incorrect notion that violence is invariably immoral. This historical example provides an explanation of how religion may sometimes condone violent acts. I can relate to the principles illustrated in the Bhagavat Gita because I feel that violent acts are justified in times of war. In times of war, it is the responsibility of the warrior to perform violent acts. These violent acts are somewhat justified by religions, which believe that the soul of the warrior cannot cease to exist.
This same concept can also be applied to matters concerning animal violence. This type of violence is condoned by religions only when necessary, as when livestock are slaughtered in order to feed society. Most major religions, although not all religions, see this type of violence as acceptable. Without animal meat, the lives of most individuals would be difficult because this resource is widely utilized. Other types of animal violence, however, are not condoned by any religion. This type of animal violence, which may include the unnecessary suffering of various animals, is considered immoral and unjust. I feel that animal violence acceptable only when used as a means of providing nourishment for society, and feel that it is unethical when used for any other means. Unnecessary violence towards animals, I feel, should warrant the same punishment as would unnecessary violence towards humans. Similar to the fighting of warriors, the use of violence with animals is considered acceptable only when necessary as described by the various religious creeds.
Another explanation for the apparent discrepancy between religious ideals and actual practice is evident in history. This explanation states that violent acts are condoned when performed as a means of propagating the faith. This rationalization states that violence is acceptable when practiced in order to spread a particular faith. For example, in medieval times a Christian group participated in organized warfare on behalf of their religion and God. When the Roman government came under Christian rule, the church had to establish guidelines for the use of violence. The church believed that violence was evil, but also believed that complete passivity would cause the demise of the Roman Empire. Therefore, several laws were established and allowed for violent acts that supported the continuation of the church. The Crusades, an attempt by the Christian church to reclaim religious territory, then began and occurred with great amounts of violence. The Pope proclaimed that anyone who joined the Crusade would be given a full dispensation of all sins and would be relieved of any criminal penance that may be owed. The Pope also granted licenses either to excuse or to permit an action that was otherwise canonically illegal, which therefore excused any violent acts that occurred during the battles.
This example shows how violence is sometimes condoned by certain religions when used as a means of propagating the faith. Another historical example of how violent acts are condoned when used as a means of propagating faith exists within the Islamic religion. The Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic Jihad, which represents a small fraction of Muslims, is a group that condones violent acts that propagate their faith. Jihad is not a defensive war only, but a war against any unjust regime. According to the Islamic Jihad, people should be freed from unjust regimes and influences so that they can freely choose to believe in Allah. This militant group, therefore, believes that violent force is acceptable in any situation that relates to unjustness. The use of violence as a means of propagating the faith, I feel, is appropriate because if a religious group refused to perform violent acts then not only would their lives end but the existence of their religion would be in jeopardy.
The events of September eleventh caused much of society to question how two entities such as religion and violence can simultaneously exist because the two seem to be opposite in nature. Most individuals of a deeply religious nature could not believe that religion could, in any way, condone violent acts. To these individuals, violence deviates from the true nature of religion, and feel that violence is unacceptable. There are two explanations, however, that use historical examples to show how these two issues are related. One explanation states that some individuals believe that violence is relatively harmless because humans never truly cease to exist. Another explanation states that violence is condoned by religious groups when used as a means of propagating faith. These two explanations show how, although most major religions condemn violence, sometimes violent acts are justified. Leaving aside extreme forms of non-violence such as Jainism and Buddhism, most religions condone the use of violence as a means of self-defence. Although most violent acts are in opposition to the moral principles instilled by most religions, exceptions exist which allow for violence to be present.
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