DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Religion & Violence
The interview will explore whether religion is a cause of violence or peacemaking or both. What do you think, before watching it?
Dr. Appleby will argue that religion is (a) sometimes a strong cause for violence (the violence is “really about religion”); (b) sometimes a weak cause (religion is “an ingredient…that ratchets up the conflict”); and (c) conversely, sometimes a cause for peace. Keep track of which examples he uses to support each claim.
1. Share the examples you noted of when religion was a strong cause of violence, when weak, and when a cause for peace. Do you think these are good examples? Are there others? So do you agree that religion functions in all three of these ways? Why or why not?
2. Dr. Appleby thinks that in some conflicts, leaders use religion as a tool to “sacralize” the conflict – to make it not just about territory, unemployment, etc., but rather about God. He hypothesizes that this adds power to their cause. Do you agree? Why or why not? Can you think of examples where a leader or movement might have done this?
3. If religion does cause violence at least sometimes, does this make it seem less likely to be true? Why or why not?
4. Do you think fundamentalists are afraid that modern social or political forces are trying to “steal [their] soul,” as Dr. Appleby said, and that this fear sometimes leads them to violent resistance of these forces? If yes, can you think of any examples?
5. Assume for a moment that you are very committed to a particular religion. How much should your views about religion impact your views on social or political matters?
6. According to Dr. Appleby, religious leaders such as Osama bin Laden gain power even if their message distorts their religion because they are perceived to be “the genuine article” – truly committed to their religion. Do you agree that genuine commitment adds power to a leader’s message? How much? Is it possible to be genuinely committed to a religion while distorting it?
7. Dr. Gaillardetz ended with two excellent questions that Dr. Appleby admitted he wished he better understood: what elements tend to make a religion a force for peace, and what advice should we give to religious leaders that might help them induce peace vs. violence? What were Dr. Appleby’s responses to these questions? What might you add?
8. The renowned theologian Hans Küng once said: “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions. No dialogue between the religions without investigation of the foundations of the religions.” Do you really think enhancing inter-religious understanding and dialogue can contribute to making peace between the religions? If so, how? If not, why not?