Religion and Political Conflict “The Deity Factor”

**The assignment for this Religion and Political Conflict class was to answer the question of why people threaten voilence or wage war in the name of religion.  It was written in September of 2004.  This is still my take, what’s yours?

Fighting for Religion

(The Deity Factor)


Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, “Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?”  And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up.  Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.”  Judges 1:1-2


            The first reason I can think of as to why people threaten violence and wage war in the name of religion historically is because they sense or feel a mandate by god.  That sense of what I call the ‘deity factor’ can be the ultimate motivation to cause one to wage war in a most fierce manner.  There is no higher calling for a believer to have than the calling from a deified figure.  There are a couple reasons that come to mind.  First when a person or a nation feels they have a call from On High, the deity factor says that the calling is coming from One who is all powerful and able to win any battle against any opponent. After all no one believes his god is second to another.  Second the deity factor allows the god the attributes of creation as well as life sustaining power for and over the creation, causing the created to be grateful for life itself.  This sense of gratitude is a powerful motivator in that one doesn’t mind giving his life in service in order to fight his god’s battles.  The thinking is that even a tragic death on the battlefield in this type of service carries with it eternal reward for he who fought the good fight.


            There are also other rewards within the text.  In this case the Canaanites were on land that the Lord of the Children of Israel had given them.  This was also the case in many instances in the bible, including in Joshua where the Israelites were to cross over the Jordan.


Moses My servant is dead.  Now therefore, arise go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving them-the children of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses.  Joshua 1:2-3


Joshua also got that deified assurance mentioned previously in verse 5 of this same text.


No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.  I will not leave you nor forsake you.  Joshua 1:5


            Sure there are tangible benefits to waging and winning these battles.  Some would include wealth in the forms of land expansion.  The winning side at times has an opportunity to take hold of the conquered treasures.  But the deity factor can cause one to wage war with no tangible advantages at all, but only for the glory of the god giving the orders.

BB&G Explores Religion & Political Conflict

I was watching Meet The Press on Sunday morning, and of course one of the topics featured was the current crisis between Israel and Hamas.  As Hamas fires it’s missiles and Israel advances via ground, I imagine this is partly because there is a new administration coming into power later this month.  The Bush administration is of course an unrepentant supporter of Israel.  And while Obama says he also supports the nation just approaching 60 years since their declaration of independence, I don’t think the limits are known to Jews.  They may find it to their advantage to get a foot in certain geological and political places before Obama takes over.

What fascinates me as gas prices slowly rise again in the midst of this conflict, is the age old source of the initial conflict, religion.  In this case the beef between the Jews and a particularly radical group of Palestinians. 

I grew up experiencing and participating in various denominations of Christianity.  For a time I considered myself a rather devout Christian.  Now what that means to the reader is certainly subjective as we will get into later on.  I have also questioned and taken Christianity to task on differing subject matters.  I studied religion in college as well, and that really gave me an insight into how the religious beliefs of man determine lifestyles, laws, treaties, alliances and enemies.  It is the oldest and most consistent source of conflict in the world.  And when taken to such extremes, it seems as if it will never end.  Take the discussion on Meet The Press.  One of the guest was Jeffrey Goldberg, a Jewish American writer who currently writes for The Atlantic.  He had occasion to speak with Nizar Rayyan a late military leader of  Hamas who was said to be killed on New Years Day.  In his column from January 2,  Goldberg had asked Rayyan about the possibility of peace between Israel and Hamas.  This is what he wrote:

The question I wrestle with constantly is whether Hamas is truly, theologically implacable. That is to say, whether the organization can remain true to its understanding of Islamic law and God’s word and yet enter into a long-term non-aggression treaty with Israel.  I tend to think not, though I’ve noticed over the years a certain plasticity of belief among some Hamas ideologues. Also, this is the Middle East, so anything is possible.
There was no flexibility with Rayyan. This is what he said when I asked him if he could envision a 50-year hudna (or cease-fire) with Israel: “The only reason to have a hudna is to prepare yourself for the final battle. We don’t need 50 years to prepare ourselves for the final battle with Israel.” There is no chance, he said, that true Islam would ever allow a Jewish state to survive in the Muslim Middle East. “Israel is an impossibility. It is an offense against God.”

And there you have it.  This guy’s way of looking at his faith, or so he said was that no way his God would allow another people to live peacefully and that the only reason for a cease fire was to load up weapons and artillery for future battles.  Now don’t get me wrong, I have opinions on this as well as other conflicts both current and historical.  This “Deity Factor,” a phrase I coined in college which I will post later explains this perfectly.  But that is not the purpose of this post or the series which I plan to explore for the week.

My question is how do we deal with religion in the 21st century.  I see religion as a binding entity that has helped a lot of people.  I see it as a unifying force that allow great things to be accomplished among followers.  Through it people learn discipline, submission, and servant-hood as there is a recognition of a higher power beyond human domain.  Religion has sparked many humanitarian efforts all over the world through aid in the midst of wars and natural disasters for instance.  Equally, religion and religious ideology has also been the source of most wars around the world.  Historically, one religion cannot exist without some group of another trying to eradicate it from the earth in the name of said religion.  Religion has divided nations, torn brotherhoods asunder, killed babies and colonized generations of people.  People have ravaged lands, raped women, burned people alive and even attempted to wipe an entire ethnicity off the face of the earth – all in the name of religion and a brand of faith.

As sophisticated and technologically sound as we are in this nation with our computers, internet, satellite and space shuttle capabilities etc., primal religion and faith are still the straw that stirs the drink of American thought and motivation.  I don’t care how secular some say this nation is, make no mistake about it;  A major play in this past presidential election as well as the two previous are fundamental religious beliefs among Americans. 

This week I would like to explore that thought, provoke some conversation and get the opinions of ordinary people about the state of religion and how it effects our lives.  Of course we can’t cover every aspect, but I would like to start the year by exploring what is THE most significant factor of political and personal thought. 

Is it possible to exist with a people who don’t believe another people should exist?  Are we too radical in our approaches, not just them but us?  (Whomever us is) Do we question the origins of our own beliefs enough?  Do we respect others who do not believe as we do?  Are we doomed to just fight one another until the end of the earth?  All this week as we cover different topics surrounding religion, I invite you to just talk about it.  Maybe we can come up with some ideas, perhaps start a positive movement.