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Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious…
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Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005)

by Hector Avalos

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This book argues -- convincingly -- that the three Abrahamic religions include a lot of justification for violence in their foundational texts. Moreover, it demonstrates that these faiths have been used to justify violence many times in the past, and continue to do so.

Why then only two stars? First, I was not much impressed by the author's argument that this happens because these religions create "scarce resources". The "scarce resources" he cites seem to me more instances of "us-ness" vs. "them-ness" than specifics in their own rights, and that makes it hard for me to see much difference between "religious" violence on the one hand and nationalistic, or ethnic, or political violence on the other. Has not religion in history acted too often as an excuse for violence -- motivated by greed, or by sheer human aggressiveness -- than as a cause? Mr. Avalos does not convince me that religiously-induced violence is different from violence attributed to other factors.

Secondly, the author seems to imply that one bad apple (or more accurately a whole bunch of bad apples) turns the whole barrel bad. Yes, there are a lot of things in the Bible and in the Koran that say that violence is acceptable, for religious reasons, in some instances. But there are also a lot of things in the Bible and in the Koran that urge the faithful to be loving, forgiving and non-violent. Clearly, an absolutist on either end of the spectrum --on the one end an atheist, and on the other a devout and fundamentalist Christian, Jew or Muslim -- won't be able to accept a "half full/half empty" view of sacred texts. But for this secular humanist, Mr. Avalos' view is too extreme. ( )
  annbury | Dec 23, 2012 |
The author presents an interesting thesis that the origin of religious violence lies in the competition for scarce resources. He details ways in which he feels there is only so much of what people want to get from religion to go around, or at least, it is perceived as limited, leading to oubreaks of violence. I'm not convinced by his thesis, but it's interesting and it certainly gives me something to think about. ( )
  Devil_llama | Apr 11, 2011 |
(posted on my blog: davenichols.net)

Religious scholar Hector Avalos, better known for his book The End of Religious Studies, tackles a contentious subject in Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. Avalos argues his theory that religions create scare resources (regardless of whether real or imaginary) which lead to various levels of violence in order to defend, gain, or promote them. He posits that there are four main areas where scarce resources are created, namely through divine revelation (inscripturation), sacred space (such as Jerusalem), group privileging, and salvation. While Avalos is clearly a dedicated, detailed, and highly intelligent researcher, Fighting Words offers a dense format that often slowed and obfuscated his argument to the reader.

From the beginning, Avalos makes it clear that the book will serve as a direct rebuttal of arguments (of other writers and researchers) which determined that religions are largely peaceful and that violence is an aberration of the nature of religion. The interpretations of these 'pacifist'-leaning researchers are deemed 'essentialist' and found to be no more reasonable than the fundamentalist interpretations. Large parts of each chapter are dedicated to describing the arguments Avalos seeks to counter, and at times, the narrative bogs down in explaining them.

Avalos explores the three main Abrahamic religions and how each has created scarce resources which inspired violence. The strongest part of the book for me involved a long discussion of Hitler and Nazism and how the anti-Jewish violence was largely rooted in Biblical scarce resource creation. The comparison of Mein Kampf and the Bible (as inspirational sources of value) is fantastic and compelling.

The last few chapters were weak (to me). The discussion of secular states and Avalos's solutions left much to be desired as the author admits frequently that the solutions he offers are unlikely and possibly ineffective.

Fighting Words offers a dense history of some aspects of religious violence and is clearly aimed at scholarly readers familiar with the materials. I felt that there were many examples of the author missing obvious events worthy of consideration and instead concentrating on incidents that (perhaps) were not the best available to address (and I admit this was likely determined by specific arguments within the scholarly circles and not as much by popular non-scholarly debate subjects). While much of the book was clearly written for Avalos's fellow researchers, a lot of history and argument were within my grasp as an intermediate non-professional religious reader. Strong scholarship, solid-but-not-concise argument, and decent attention to the subject await the reader therein. Three and one-half stars. ( )
2 vote IslandDave | Aug 17, 2009 |
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Is religion inherently violent? If not, what provokes violence in the name of religion? Do we mischaracterize religion by focusing too much on its violent side?

In this intriguing, original study of religious violence, Prof. Hector Avalos offers a new theory for the role of religion in violent conflicts. Starting with the premise that most violence is the result of real or perceived scarce resources, Avalos persuasively argues that religion creates new scarcities on the basis of unverifiable or illusory criteria. Through a careful analysis of the fundamental texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, Dr. Avalos explains how four "scarce" resources have figured repeatedly in creating religious violence: sacred space (churches, temples, holy cities); the creation of holy scriptures (exclusive revelations); group privilege (chosen people, the predestined select few); and salvation (only some are saved). Thus, Avalos shows, religious violence is often the most unnecessary violence of all since the scarce resources over which religious conflicts ensue are not actually scarce or need not be scarce.

Comparing violence in religious and nonreligious contexts, Avalos makes the compelling argument that if we condemn violence caused by scarce resources as morally objectionable, then we must consider even more objectionable violence provoked by alleged scarcities that cannot be proven to exist. Moreover, he shows how many modern academic biblical scholars and scholars of religion maintain the value of sacred texts despite their violence.

This serious philosophical examination of the roots of religious violence adds much to our understanding of a perennial source of widespread human suffering. [retrieved 4/20/18 from Amazon.com]
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