Religion and Peace

Linked with Fumihiko Sueki – Japan, and with the International Association for the History of Religions IAHR (on 25. Sept, 08).

Published on a japanese website: (first on Dharma World, July 2006), by Fumihiko Sueki, not dated.

Although religions actively preach peace, they are also often the source of war and violence. Why should this be? There are many ways to answer this question. One way is by saying that there are religions that seek peace and religions that approve of war and violence. Lately it is often said in Japan that monotheistic religions are intolerant and bring about wars, whereas polytheistic religions are tolerant and seek peace. This explanation is well suited to Japanese nationalistic concepts and is thus readily accepted and easily popularized; for this very reason, it is dangerous. It was the polytheistic Japanese, after all, who conducted an extremely brutal oppression of Christian believers during the latter part of the sixteenth century and the beginning of the seventeenth century. Before World War II, Japan was a militaristic nation where brave combat was glorified. We say that Buddhism is peaceful, yet during the war years of the Showa era (1926-89) Buddhists supported the war effort most fervently, seeing it as a manifestation of the spirit of Mahayana Buddhism.

Another answer would be that religions have primarily sought peace, but some deviant elements often provoke violence and wars. The Aum Shinrikyo sect, for example, cannot be said to have been a true religion; it is considered a fraud passing itself off as a religion. Moreover, it is frequently noted that although some extremist practitioners of fundamentalist Islam provoke violence, Islam actually is primarily a religion that seeks peace. But even if we grant this, there are too many religions that are aberrations. Historically, religions have more often caused wars than they have brought about peace, and so it cannot possibly be said that religions have been inherently peaceful.

Is Peace Truly Desirable? …

… Religion, however, is not simply a deviation from rules. While on the one hand it does deviate from the world of mutual social understanding, on the other hand it returns to that world. Religion rationally devises its doctrine in the latter dimension. And since religion must operate within society, it must follow the rules that arise out of mutual understanding. Moreover, it has the right to speak out on issues concerning how those rules are determined.

Yet, for religion the issues of war and peace are not simply matters to be relegated only to the mutual understanding of the worlds of morals and politics. These are issues that confront the most basic elements of religion. This is born from confronting the dead. When we pursue the matter of the Other, we come to the issue of the dead. The reason is that the dead are the “Other” who are most difficult for the living to comprehend and with whom no type of mutual understanding can materialize. Yet the living cannot go about their lives without dealing with the dead. When we devote our thoughts to war and peace, it is those who died in wars that we think about first. We cannot think about issues of war and peace without remembering the dead who were wantonly killed at Auschwitz or Hiroshima, to give two examples. The future always builds on an accumulation from the past. If we are to talk about peace, we must start by asking how it involves the dead of past wars. There has been enough of abstract pacifism. We must go beyond that. The question we ought to ask today is, how far can we go into the past to create a true peaceful future by successfully interacting with the dead? (full text).

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