“Militant Word and Martial Metaphor”

A Interfaith Dialogue symposium at the University of Oregon last weekend focused on how much our religious language is affected by images and metaphors drawn from warfare. Especially within the so-called “Abrahamic” traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) the language of warfare based in the common experience of their Middle-Eastern origins.

These traditions have no exclusive claim on religious language of conflict and struggle, but some individuals have suggested that refusal to accept alternate religious paths is inherent in the very nature of monotheistic religions. However, even though there is much in these three traditions that reflects the experience of warfare, all three also have traditions of peacemaking and reconciliation that are likewise firmly rooted in their scriptures and religious traditions.Are militant expressions in our scriptures only metaphors for inward, spiritual struggles? Or are they guidelines for how we should deal with the Other?

Two interesting books that explore some of the religious dimensions of conflict and language are Charles Kimball”s When Religion Becomes Evil (San Francisco: Harper SanFrancisco, 2002) and J. Harold Ellens, Ed., The Destructive Power of Religion (4 vols., Praeger, 2004). (Full disclosure; my article “”The Bible Made Me Do It”: Text, Interpretation, and Violence” appears in the latter collection.)

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