W. Littlejohn's Reviews > The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict

The Myth of Religious Violence by William T. Cavanaugh
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's review
Mar 01, 2010

really liked it
Read in March, 2010

A fantastic book with a compelling and paradigm-busting argument, trampling gleefully on cherished assumptions of both left and right alike. In that respect, vintage Cavanaugh.

Unfortunately, he seems to be trying really hard for academic respectability, and so he is painfully thorough in framing his arguments, refuting his opponents, and making careful qualifications. All of this is important, no doubt, but it deprives this book of much of the zing and panache that make Cavanaugh such a fun read. And, since the arguments he is refuting are actually very thin and repetitive, his attempts to be thorough in refuting every permutation of them mean that he has to repeat himself half a dozen times. Hence only four stars.

In summary, he argues that the idea that religion leads to violence, which Christian conservatives have eagerly but selectively invoked as a reason why we need to go to war against Islam, is not simply false but incoherent, since it relies upon a fictitious distinction between "religious" and "secular" invented by the early Enlightenment. Indeed, the whole concept "religion," he argues, is an imaginary construct. The result of this myth has been to create a false dichotomy between religious violence, which is bad, and secular violence, which is good and necessary. By legitimating the violence of the nation-state, this myth has actually increased violence, rather than getting rid of it, as its proponents claim to seek.

The real payoff comes when he starts quoting post-9/11 commentators on why we had to go to war in the Middle East. The passages are chilling, and then exponentially more so when you realize that, though it is pagans like Christopher Hitchens that he is quoting, most Christians that we know were saying the same things.

Anyway, much more to come on this rich book...possibly here but more likely at johannulusdesilentio.blogspot.com.

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Reading Progress

01/01/2010 page 14
4.91% "Buckling up for an exciting ride..."
02/03/2010 page 45
15.79% "Fantastic book...I'm just finding so little time to read it right now...grrr..."
02/15/2010 page 100
35.09% "Finally trucking along...this book lacks some of the vitality of his others; trying to hard to be academically-respectable, I suppose..."
02/15/2010 page 100
35.09% "Finally trucking along...this book seems to lack the vitality of his others--trying too hard to be academically-respectable, I suppose"
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