By Linda Morris May 27, 2006
THE Bible has as many invocations to violence as the Koran, if not more, says an American biblical scholar and peace activist. There is a darker side to the sacred text that many Christians will not admit.
Alongside passages exhorting believers to love their neighbour and turn the other cheek are verses that refer to hellfire, encourage acts of violence or call for God to carry out acts of vengeance against sinners.
Even the Book of Psalms, generally regarded by Christians as uplifting and comforting, referred to the dashing of "little ones" against rock, said Chris Stanley, a professor of theology at St Bonaventure University in western New York state.
"There is the angry violent god of the Old Testament, but there is plenty of language in the New Testament that portrays God as a violent judge, and some that can be taken that human violence is something that God would ordain," Dr Stanley said.
Dr Stanley spoke at a two-day seminar hosted by the United Theological College that explored how religious texts have been used to validate violence - and can be reinterpreted to encourage dialogue between faiths.
This month, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, was criticised by Islamic leaders when he said the Koran was riddled with invocations to violence and described the central challenge of Islam as the struggle between moderate and extremist forces.
Dr Stanley said religious violence was not distinctively a Muslim problem and those who engage in violence and claim support from scripture are not necessarily twisting words, but picking up on past elements.
Christians and Jews each had to face up to, not paper over, their violent antecedents, and no religion could claim the moral high ground.
It was, however, sometimes harder for Muslims to deal critically with the violent statements in the Koran because of the belief that every word of the Koran is spoken by God.
The challenge, he said, was to have people follow those parts of the scriptures that espouse non-violence.
The prominent US theologian William Cavanaugh, in Australia on a speaking tour, said in Melbourne that Christianity, Islam and other faiths can and do contribute to violence in certain situations.
But he disputed that religions were more inclined towards violence than "secular" ideologies and institutions.
"The myth of religious violence promotes a dichotomy - us in the secular West who are rational and peacemaking, and them, the hordes of violent religious fanatics in the Muslim world," Dr Cavanaugh said.
"Regrettably, we find ourselves forced to bomb them into the higher rationality."
Garry Trompf, a professor of religious studies at the University of Sydney, said at the seminar that the propensity to violence predated salvational religious traditions and carried over from ancient times when fertility and victory were celebrated. These ancient religious instincts subverted latter-day traditions that considered the state of spiritual life to be more important than victory over enemies.
Psalms 137:9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
Matthew 10: 34-36 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Deuteronomy 7:2 And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor show mercy unto them.
Psalms 58:10 : The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.