“Massacres” – A Personal Reflection from Larry Greenfield, Executive Director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Written by Dr. Larry Greenfield
November 28, 2017

Editor’s Note: Parliament of the World’s Religions Executive Director Dr. Larry Greenfield offers a reflection on “massacres” following recent atrocities including the massive assault on Sufis in Egypt, Christians in Texas, USA, and too many other acts of terror that have implicated religion as either predator or prey of extreme violence. As we encourage the cooperation of spiritual, secular, and religious traditions and their adherents—people of faith and conscience—to build peace in the world, the Parliament of the World’s Religions is committed to open, respectful discourse that evaluates critically the need for religions and institutions of government to jointly and cooperatively seek the highest order of peace in all societies, including a commitment to the freedom of belief and non-violent religious and spiritual practice and expression for all.

I don’t know the real causes for the massacre of human beings that involves or implicates religion. Such tragedies rarely have a single cause and it is difficult to sort out which factors play larger roles than others.
But when the perpetrators or victims are identified with a religion we can safely assume religion played some part in the violent taking of multiple lives.
I know for certain, however, that instinctively I am personally repulsed by using even a small portion of religious belief and practice as a justification for taking the lives of those with whom one disagrees or one believes is engaged in heretical beliefs and/or practices.
It is, for me, not just instinctively repulsive but intellectually and spiritually unacceptable: to have the presumption that as a human being or a human group you have the right reserved only to a higher power to take life violently.
What is to be gained for the sake of truth or the spirit by massacring others?
And certainly this applies not only the perpetrators of massacres but to political, legal, military, and religious officials who engage in the same kind of violence against the perpetrators in the name of retribution or revenge, be it political, legal, military or religious vengeance.
Whatever our own religious identity and practice might be, if we believe that the violent taking of life is a violation of what is most sacred in our world, then, at a time when such massacres are becoming evermore common place, we have an obligation to do whatever we can, within our religious communities and the wider public order, to bring compassionate words and actions to those who are victims of such violence and deliberate, effective, and non-violent action that will subdue and eliminate this kind of violence from our human communities around the world.
I personally believe, in fact, that the massacre of animals is also unjustifiable, but I suggest we start first by stopping the killing of our own species and allow that action to infuse our behavior toward the non-human animal kingdom.
Religion, for all its misuse, must again be instrumental in advancing a truly just and peaceful world.

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