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    War & religion – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why is religion responsible for most of the wars and suffering in the world?

    A. Superficially it appears that it is religion that impels the wars, terrorist attacks and human suffering that we see in so many parts of the world. The non-believer therefore argues that we would be better off without religion and there would be more peace and harmony if God did not exist. But this is a dangerous fallacy, though it must be said that it is largely because of religious believers that religion loses credibility. If members of other faiths were aware of the terminology that Jews are familiar with, they would call extremist acts that are claimed to be done for God’s sake a Chillul HaShem (a desecration of God’s name).

    A passage in the sidra of Lech L’cha reports that Malchitzedek, king of Salem, blessed Abram and said, “Blessed is Abram of God Most High, Maker of heaven and earth, and blessed be God Most High”. Abram had involved himself, without thought of personal benefit, in an international political crisis. The kings of the north had attacked the kingdoms of the south and during the operation Abram’s nephew Lot was captured. Abram rescued Lot and brought some stability to the kingdoms of the south. Malchitzedek was impressed and gave credit to God for Abram’s acts.

    Yet Abram merely thought what he was doing was good. There was no religious propaganda, no attempt to arouse others to join a band-wagon by appealing to piety. If it was war it was war, if it was politics it was politics. It was not disguised as a war for God. It did not purport to be a Kiddush HaShem campaign. If it was going to succeed it had to succeed on its own merits without exploiting the religious emotions of others. If Abram’s innate piety gained the admiration of Malchitzedek, so be it.

    In modern times when God and religion get dragged into a conflict situation, it is not one side but both that tend to shout whatever slogan is their equivalent of Kiddush HaShem. But all the religions concerned seem to be monotheistic religions, and it is presumably one and the same God in whose name they all claim to be acting. So how can there be a fight between the Catholic and Protestant God, the Christian and Islamic God, the Islamic and Jewish God?

    If God were so minded, He might want to echo Shakespeare and say, “A plague on all your houses!” But it is more likely that He would draw attention to the Yerushalmi passage (Chagigah 1:7) in which He says, “Would that they would abandon Me but keep My Torah!” If those who exploit religious emotions took note, they would leave God’s name out of their conflicts altogether and instead make a quiet, genuine attempt to learn and live by Divine principles such as “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18), “Do not hate your fellow in your heart” (Lev. 19:17), “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14), “Justice, justice shall you follow” (Deut. 16:20), and “When you see your enemy’s ass weighed down by its burden you must not refrain from helping” (Deut. 23:5).

    Doing this without fanfare, fanaticism, propaganda or slogans is the true Kiddush HaShem.

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