Retreat from Redemptive Violence

Oct 9, 2008

The question for this week’s Cross-Country Check-up[1] is ‘What is the relationship between religion and conflict?  Is religion a help or a hindrance in situations of conflict?’  An early caller is both articulate and unequivocal:

Most religions are built around a mythological structure of blood sacrifice.   Religion feeds violence; it hinders all attempts to transform or resolve the conflict.  The role of religion is occasionally and ritually to lance the violence by giving it ritual expression, letting some of it out.  Sometimes to settle the violence of the group onto a single victim.  But from inside its fundamental ethos of structural violence, it is absurd to see religion as anything but a hindrance in situations of conflict.  That’s why people are less and less religious these days.[2]

How did this come to be?  How did this opinion expressed on a phone-in programme in Canada in 2002 come to be the commonly-held assumption of centuries’ duration?  How did the one who preached enemy-love, the one known as the Prince of Peace come to be regarded as the Head and Author of a cult steeped in violence?  What went wrong?  Most pointedly, how has our ‘default position’ on soteriology, that of substitutionary atonement, contributed to, made possible, this apparently contradictory validation of sacred violence?

Click here to read the rest of the paper: Retreat from Redemptive Violence: A Conversation with Anthony Bartlett’s Cross Purposes: The Violent Grammar of Christian Atonement

[1] Sunday afternoon phone-in programme on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) national radio.

[2] The response of a woman calling from somewhere in Canada; a loose paraphrase based on memory alone; 7 April 2002.

* Six years after this monograph was published, I have come to see, with respect to 11 September 2001, both the questions and the answers rather differently; at minimum, I would suggest that it is the response to the events that have made the discussion more urgent.


Muslim-Christian Trainings
Mindanao / Philippines Conflict Transformation
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico
Sudan third party non-violence intervention