Religious Symbols and Violence Reflection On Luke 9:1-9

Nestor Ravilas

The problem with religious imagination borne from oppressed and tormented communities is that it is either equally oppressive or, even worst. And since these religious symbols survived and outlived their own procreators, they transcend time and space to address and shape modern societies. Take for instance the case of the West, known to be the champion of secular democratic regimes, reminded by Carl Schmitt that their touted concept of the modern theory of the state are actually secularized theological concepts. This amounts to the fact that despite all the attempts of the prophets of rationality to either dismiss or reinterpret the phenomenon dubs now as post-secularism, it undeniably proves that secularist project fails, and religion, along with its metaphors and symbols, remain with us even after the so called, Great Separation.

Jose Casanova, a Spanish religious thinker, observes the deliberate return of religion to public sphere in the period of 1980s. Repulsive of being privatized and subordinated by secular constitutional states, religion breaks into the public sphere and intrudes in politics and public life. The triumphant return, however, was tarnished with the involvement of religions to incidents of violence in the last 40 years. Again, as in the past, religion suffers the Janus face: promoting peace and freedom as in liberation and black theologies on the one hand, while wreaking havoc on the other hand like the extremities of religious fundamentalism. Vivid, however, is its association with violence.

Political theologians immediately alarmed by this novel politicization of religion. They primarily see the rise of new form of political theology, the legitimation of political agenda by theological and religious symbols. Themes of biblical revenge, punishment, vindication, and violence such as those found in Luke 13:1-9 take centre stage again in these political crises of colonization, market capitalism, militarization, and populism. Those vindictive eschatological languages we found in the New Testament were borne out of suffering and oppression experienced by the communities that produced those sacred texts, unwittingly provide legitimation and inspiration for counter violence against the harm and injustices inflicted by neo-colonization and militarization.

Populism is more insidious. With the illusion that certain cultural and historical values are under attack by alleged infidels and have to be defended, violence was employed for the supposed noble cause. As in the time of writing of this piece, more than 50 people were killed in public shootings in two mosques in New Zealand. Religious motivation could not be just brushed aside since the carnage was executed in religious places and done while the victims were in act of worship. Killers could not do such kind of savagery. Only those who believed that they have to clean this world with wicked, heathen, and unclean people to protect the pure and chosen ones convinced that they have good reason to execute such despicable act.

The thought shared here is far from the usual way of reflecting on the message of the Bible, but the emergence of religion in the public life must not be used again to serve those powers that prevent the quest for a liveable world and in drive to promote flourishing of life. We must seize the chance to look and pursue a better alternative. Only we can do that by becoming first critical of our own heritage and see what is life giving and what is potentially harmful in our faith tradition.

Originally published as a Lenten reflection for  Kaalagad Katipunang Kristyano