Skip to main content

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong



Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong

Hearing the mantra that religion is the cause of many wars on this Earth and poisonous to humanity is echoed among those who reject religion and also those who question religion’s capacity for goodness.  Karen Armstrong, in her new book, Fields of Blood, tackles the muddy relationship between religion and violence with care, probing early sources, but also judiciously reflecting on the nature of religion, its relationship to violence, and looking at violent activity being caused by other sources.  In turn, Armstrong makes a case that pointing to religion as the sum reason why wars take place is not only simplistic but doesn’t fit the records we find.  Noting the ample supply of food in Jericho in the ninth millennium BCE, Armstrong writes, “Warfare would not become endemic in the region for another five thousand years, but it was already a possibility and from the first, it seems, large-scale violence was linked not with religion but with organized theft (13).”
            
Pointing out that religion isn’t the one and only source of violence doesn’t excuse it from promoting violence through the centuries.  Upon ascending to the Persian throne, Darius I combined three themes in his leadership that caused his enemies to fear him; namely, “a dualistic worldview that pits the good of the empire against evildoers who oppose it; a doctrine of election that sees the ruler as a divine agent; and a mission to save the world (122).”  This religious, economic, and power hungry impulse was central to Darius’ insistence that he would unite the world, bringing happiness to those who lived in his empire.  Furthermore, we see this kind of dualistic mentality carried out in the early stages of Roman rule.  Armstrong contends that, “Rome’s fully professional army became the most efficient killing machine the world had ever seen (131).”  Laying bare the enemy was part of the Roman mission, leaving nothing but the land and sea. 
         
   Armstrong also weaves together the themes of religious conviction found in the Civil War.  Writing about this she notes, “The Civil War armies have been described as the most religiously motivated in American history (295).”  Northern and Southern victories would rally the people around political ideals that were held to be ultimately the hand of Divine Providence.  Mark Noll has written in his book on the Civil War that the greatest theologian of the Civil War was Abraham Lincoln.  With national fasts, prayers, preachers thundering from the pulpit concerning the war, the Civil War imbued the strong sense that religion has played in America’s history, especially its wars. 

            Tracing religion and violence through India, China, Europe, and North America, Armstrong writes with keen eye towards the foundational sources of religion and politics that have shaped the conversation between religion and violence.  You won’t agree with everything here, but you are bound to learn much and be illuminated by this discussion.
            Thanks to Blogging for Books and Alfred A. Knopf for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

the great spiritual migration

The Great Spiritual Migration by Brian D McLaren

Brian McLaren and his own pithy way brings to the foreground and emphasis on a new kind of Christianity. The kind of faith that Brian envisions is a kind of migration not been set in the bedrock of beliefs that is unmoving but rather shifting with both culture and with faith. His new book the great spiritual migration is exactly that, a pointed work that encapsulates a vision towards the future where Christianity is changing and its peoples lives are changed as well.

Brian states in the introduction, "but we also know that for a lot of people Christianity is malfunctioning, seriously so, and it's not pretty. This kind of frustration with conventional Christianity is what McLaren gets gets to at the heart of this message is concerned with a number of different clusters unbelief. One, namely that Christianity has been stuck in a set of propositions or beliefs that has controlled churches in the faith, rather then a spirit of love t…

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
Misperceptions, misconnections, and missed observations are just some of the issues that Timothy Snyder raises in his book, Black Earth, concerning the Holocaust.  Snyder, no stranger to the frontlines of scholarship on the Holocaust, with his previous book Bloodlands, that concerns the land from Hitler to Stalin, takes a look at the Holocaust from new sources and new avenues of thought.  How did some nation-states survive relatively unscathed from Nazi persecution while others, notably Jewish populations, succumb to a wave of killings?  Also, what was the role of the Soviet Union in the war and how did Stalin effect changes in the Final Solution?  These questions are only two of the many that Snyder answers in his detailed account of the Holocaust.
One of the best chapters was entitled The Auschwitz Paradox.  Generally when the public thinks about the Holocaust, we think of Auschwitz first or at the top of our mental m…

NKJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson

NKJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishers
Growing up with the NIV, the NKJV was not a bible I was familiar with.  This new NKJV Study Bible takes all of the features of the Thomas Nelson Study Bible and makes them better.  Right out of the box I noticed that the Bible was considerably lighter than most study bibles I have read.  Further, the text font was much larger than most study editions, although I’m not quite sure of the size. The aquamarine color was a great touch and the Bible was finely put together, enduring the wear of many coming years of use.
Why is this Bible worth the purchase?  First, the study notes were great for extra handling of particular confusing and messy areas of Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.  Yet, the study notes aren’t an obstruction to the reading of the biblical text.  Clearly, the editors have taken great care in making the text stand out and the notes illuminate certain themes and areas of Scripture.  Second, the NKJV takes into account all t…