Violeta Rocha, wrote an article in Communio Viatorum, Volume 2005, XLVII, number 2. In the article, On the Violence of Love, Rocha attempts to address violence and christianity, in the context of Latin America.
According to Jon Sobrino, violence in Central America (and I would add, in other countries in Latin America) does not have religion as its origin, but injustice!
Rocha looks to Hannah Arendt in an attempt to define few concepts, namely power, violence, strength, force and authority. The definition of power is related to the ability to act as a group, power is therefore always communal. Strength, on the other hand, should be understood as related to a singular entity.
Force should be seen as an released energy, authority is “vested in persons” and finally, violence can be seen as an instrument.
According to Arendt, power and violence are opposites; where one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course, violence ends in power’s disappearance.
I am not sure that Arendt’s understanding of power and violence as opposites is particularly helpful, though I can understand where she is going. Rocha points to other definitions of violence as well and concludes, similarly to Jon Sobrino saying:
The question of religious violence, therefore, is first and foremost a human question, a social and anthropological question, and not directly religious question.
Here, Rocha, mentions desire as a driving force. Again, I think that taking the concept of desire or the human condition in general out of the context of religion, leaves religion without context. So a twist that seems to save religion from the question of violence, leaves religion with nothing but perhaps lofty contemplation of a distant deity/deities.
Rocha addresses well how religion is and has been understood from different scientific viewpoints, as “pre-sociological” or in context with human consciousness.
Bryan Wilson affirmed that the function of religion is to maintain social cohesion. Religion provides occasion for reunion, the reassertion of social solidarity, and so, sustained social cohesion, and it solemnizes the social order, providing a basis for what sociologists used to call social control.
Rocha uses the phrase “sense of belonging”, which I think is more helpful, then Bryan Wilson’s description. As some of the biggest religious movements in history, actually began as a corrective of the social cohesion. Helping those not belonging, finding their place. Rocha looks to Foucault, Tillich, and Barth in a search for a definition of religion.
For Barth true religion is the unavoidable reflection of the most profound experience of human life, the miracle of faith. Barth’s criticism of religionism is precisely that it understands Christian revelation as on of many religions, though perhaps as relatively the best of all religions, and loses sight of the uniqueness of the Christian revelation and of its superiority over human religion.
After Rocha’s overview, she looks at religious violence, claiming:
Religion becomes violent when it feels that it cannot stand against some emerging cultural pattern in society. Some actions, such as terrorism, are radical fundamentalist reaction against the conditions of the modern world such as a) the separation of church and state; b) the dignity and human rights of women; and c) individual religious freedom.
Rocha does a good work of addressing various definitions and ways to look at violence, power, and religion. In her conclusions she looks to The Letter of James, and his claim that we should
…understand religion as practice and as an option for those excluded and abandoned by society. At the same time religion must be critical of excessive wealth that exerts violence against others.
Being a part of the Lutheran tradition, this understanding of practice and moral behavior, with a reference to The Letter of James, is particularly difficult for me to accept. It is well known that Martin Luther was not convinced that The Letter of James should be in the NT canon at all.