Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence / Edition 1

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More About This Textbook


Is religion inherently violent? If not, what provokes violence in the name of religion? Do we mischaracterize religion by focusing too much on its violent side?

In this intriguing, original study of religious violence, Prof. Hector Avalos offers a new theory for the role of religion in violent conflicts. Starting with the premise that most violence is the result of real or perceived scarce resources, Avalos persuasively argues that religion creates new scarcities on the basis of unverifiable or illusory criteria. Through a careful analysis of the fundamental texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Dr. Avalos explains how four "scarce" resources have figured repeatedly in creating religious violence: sacred space (churches, temples, holy cities); the creation of holy scriptures (exclusive revelations); group privilege (chosen people, the predestined select few); and salvation (only some are saved). Thus, Avalos shows, religious violence is often the most unnecessary violence of all since the scarce resources over which religious conflicts ensue are not actually scarce or need not be scarce.

Comparing violence in religious and nonreligious contexts, Avalos makes the compelling argument that if we condemn violence caused by scarce resources as morally objectionable, then we must consider even more objectionable violence provoked by alleged scarcities that cannot be proven to exist. Moreover, he shows how many modern academic biblical scholars and scholars of religion maintain the value of sacred texts despite their violence.

This serious philosophical examination of the roots of religious violence adds much to our understanding of a perennial source of widespread human suffering.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591022848
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 4/25/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 444
  • Product dimensions: 6.21 (w) x 9.23 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Hector Avalos (Ames, IA) is associate professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, the author of four books on biblical studies and religion, the former editor of the Journal for the Critical Study of Religion, and executive director of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion.

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  • Posted March 27, 2009

    Sharp, insightful, and thought-provoking

    Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State, has presented a thoughtful, well-reasoned argument against the futility of religious-inspired violence, analyzing how easily organized religion creates the conditions that lead to violent acts by individuals or societies. Avalos' central premise is that violence occurs when resources are either scarce or are perceived to be such. Religion, he argues, creates the "scarce resources" of inscripturization (exclusive access to the word of God), group privileging (being the "chosen people"), sacred space (locations that are revered not for their material value or strategic location but for mythological reasons), and salvation (the select few who go to heaven or paradise after death). Avalos examines the three Abrahamaic religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--in turn, and gives detailed examples of how each creates the "scarce resources" that become the motive for violence.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2008

    Brilliant study of religion's effects

    In this brilliant and original book, Biblical scholar Hector Avalos presents a new theory for religious violence. ¿Most violence is due to scarce resources, real or perceived. Whenever people perceive that there is not enough of something they value, conflict may ensue to maintain or acquire that resource ¿ Unlike many non-religious sources of conflict, religious conflict relies solely on resources whose scarcity is wholly manufactured by, or reliant on, unverifiable premises. When the truth or falsity of opposing propositions cannot be verified, then violence becomes a common resort in adjudicating disputes.¿ In religion, these scarce resources are: access to divine messages (holy books), scared spaces (e.g. a holy land, holy cities), group privileges (chosen people) and salvation (the elect). He asserts that religious violence is always immoral because it is based on false premises. It is a myth that religion is essentially good and that violence is a fundamentalist deviation from it. The foundation texts of the Abrahamic religions all, in places, endorse violence. For example, ¿You shall annihilate them ¿ the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites ¿ just as the Lord your God has commanded¿ Deuteronomy 20:17. ¿Slay the pagans wherever ye find them¿ Koran, Sura 9:5. The New Testament supports deferred violence, promising that unbelievers shall be plunged into eternal torment. There are no similar explicit commands for genocide even in Hitler¿s Mein Kampf. In these holy books you can find either a peaceful or a vengeful god. Both are in the text, both are equally unverifiable. Which bits of the texts do you choose to take literally? Take your pick - liberal or evangelical? Protestant or Catholic? Shia or Sunni? It¿s all equally arbitrary and subjective, and all equally fundamentalist. Religious writers blame nationalism, secularism, colonialism and globalisation ¿ anything but religion - for wars, but the holy texts all predate these modern phenomena. Avalos writes, ¿All three Abrahamic religions have imperialism, control of the entire earth, as a fundamental goal if one judges by their basic sacred scriptures. The Hebrew Bible speaks of God¿s (Elohim) possession of all the earth (Psalm 82). Jesus commands the spreading of Christianity over the entire world (Matt. 28:18-19), thus following the model of the Roman Empire long before the rise of Constantine. Islam, likewise, envisions the whole world under the command of Allah. If there is anything `essential¿ or `fundamental¿ in all of the Abrahamic religions it is the idea that the particular god each worships has or should have universal dominion.¿ A perfect formula for perpetual conflict.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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