nonviolence and religion
Religion is often seen as a major cause of violent conflict, and there is plenty of evidence for this. Many religious traditions do accept a concept of sanctified violence, which justifies the killing of others to further what is believed to be divine purpose, or to protect chosen people.
On the other hand religion is a great wellspring of "organised love", a rich source of compassion, peace and nonviolence. Countless nonviolent social movements that challenged injustice and structural violence have been inspired, promoted, and mobilised by individuals and groups rooted in religious traditions – from Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Badsha Khan, Dorothy Day to Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama.
Over the past 100 years people across the world have increasingly drawn on the teachings from their religious traditions to develop faith-based public, nonviolent actions to bring about social, political, or cultural change.
In oppressive societies, places of worship have served as vital centres for education and mobilisation for resistance, a process for expressing faith and conviction as nonviolent action for change. This happened in Catholic churches in Central America during military dictatorships, in the Philippines during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, in Lutheran churches in East Germany during the Cold War, and in Buddhist temples in Burma under the rule of a military junta.
Nonviolence and Quakers
Turning the Tide is a Quaker programme and its work is strongly linked to the witness of early Quakers, or Religious Society of Friends, in England during the late 1600s. These Quakers were clear about their calling to help bring in the Realm of God. In a statement to the king, Charles II, in 1660, they declared their rejection of “outward” or “carnal weapons”, a pacifist position that Quakers have held consistently ever since. But they were clear that this did not mean avoiding a fight. Instead, they said they were putting on the “armour of God” and using “the weapons of the Spirit” to wage “the Lamb’s war” for the “pulling down of sin and Satan”.
Although we don’t use that language today, authentic religious practice and experience can provide us with a particular understanding of nonviolence that is different both to a secular ethical position and a pragmatic method for change. It is an understanding and practice that aligns our deepest spiritual and religious experience with our actions, our hopes and visions for ourselves and our world.