Reproduced from: http://www.crosscurrents.org/galtung.htm
RELIGIONS, HARD AND SOFT
by Johan Galtung
Every religion contains, in varying degrees, elements of the soft and the hard. For the sake of world peace, dialogue within religions and among them must strengthen the softer aspects.
JOHAN GALTUNG the dean of international peace research, founded the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo in 1959. He worked on his first book, Gandhi’s Political Ethics, while in jail as a draft resister; he has since published over fifty books and taught in universities all over the world. The present essay was given at a 1994 UNESCO conference in Barcelona on the contribution of religion to world peace and is reprinted with the kind permission of the Barcelona branch of UNESCO.
There are many ways of giving some structure to the religious landscape, or religio-scape. Only one thing is certain: whether done through taxonomies, or by mapping the geographical distribution of believers, the image will be very incomplete relative to the richness of the subject. And yet it has to be done: how else can we discuss the peace potential of religions? Moreover, there is always some value in coming up with more maps or taxonomies, on the assumption that two maps, seeing the religio-scape from different angles, is more than twice as good as one map, like stereophonic recordings or bilinguism.
The effort in Figure 1 is superficial, but, I hope, nonetheless useful. Only the major religions are included, and they are divided into three main classes: Occidental religions, inspired by the Book, the Old Testament;1 Hindu religions, called Hinduism, following the tradition of lumping many religious approaches together under one heading; and Oriental religions, inspired by the teachings of the Lord Buddha.
Some of the basic assumptions of the two extremes in religious experience, Protestantism and Mahayana Buddhism, are found on the top of the chart, some of the subdivisions are in the middle, some secular derivatives under that again, and at the bottom some indications of geographical distribution are given.
From this chart two things can be learnt: that there is an extreme variation in religious experience, and that there is a geographical logic to this variation. It varies with the longitude rather than with the latitude. As we move eastward God dies somewhere between Hinduism and Buddhism. Before that, between Islam and Hinduism, Satan has already perished. Faith loosens up: rather than the occidental either-or, this faith or that, there is an Oriental both-and, this faith and that one.2 And the faith(s) chosen or grown into are no longer seen as universally valid; validity for me/us does not imply validity for all. The individual soul is gradually deemphasized, from a knot of individual ownership in this life, via shared ownership with others in a series of reincarnations, to a vague dispersal of the ego into the net with others, the sum total of all relations with other beings, past, present and future.3 Life goals change dramatically: from an eternal continuation of individual existence, next to God, to transcendence to a higher existence devoid of individual and permanent identity, nibbana.
The range could hardly be more diverse. But what does this mean for peace? We sense immediately one problem: the combination, in the Occident, of singularism (only one valid faith) and universalism (valid for the whole world). Proselytization is the implication. Whether at the tip of the sword, or not, it easily leads to overextensions, exposures and vulnerabilities that in the name of “defense of pure faith” can become very violent (it remains to be added that Judaism is singularist and particularist, hence not missionary).
Let us now proceed more systematically by exploring the peace potential of the religions in terms of their inclination to condone or reject violence; and let us use the distinction between direct violence (intended by actors) and structural violence (built into social structures). To the extent they condone or legitimize it, aspects of religions then become cultural violence.4
To start with direct violence: there seem to be two factors that would predispose for aggressive violence when built into the very nucleus of the system of religious faith. First, the idea of being a Chosen People, which could instill in believers a high level of self-righteousness which, in turn, may lead to concepts of Holy War or at least Just War. But chosen people-ism, when enacted, will not necessarily take the form of direct violence. It could also take the form of withdrawal from the rest of the world simply because the Chosen People is too good for this world, the rest of the world being too barbarian to be even worthy of being attacked, penetrated, and/or dominated. Moreover, how about a possible reinterpretation of chosenness as being chosen for peace, by peaceful means? Imagine 1.25 billion Christians and/or 1 billion Muslims interpreting their special relation to the Almighty that way!
The two clearly Chosen Peoples that emerge from what has been said are the Jews and the Japanese, with considerable carry-over effects from Judaism into Christianity and Islam. The Chinese seem to entertain a general superiority complex relative to all others, the various kinds of barbarians.5 But they are less aggressive in the sense of being universally aggressive, all over the world, like the Occident in its universalizing religious and secular manifestations — Christianity and Islam, and Marxism and liberalism. The Chinese belong more to the withdrawal variety, leading to defensive rather than offensive strategies politically and militarily in what the Chinese historically seem to consider their pocket in the world, surrounded by the sea, the mountains, the desert and the tundra. The borders are unclear, but we are talking about a region, not the world.
And Chosen for Peace: only the Buddhists,6 plus some smaller groups and individuals everywhere. That is the problem, relative to the big numbers chosen for Holy War, Just War, and Withdrawal.
The second dimension would be aggressive missionarism, already mentioned. There is a difference between being an adherent of a faith considered right and worthy of being spread to others, and that of living under a divine command to spread the faith, if necessary by backing up the message through the skillful use of the carrot and the stick. The occidental religions Christianity and Islam clearly fall into this category; Judaism, less so, as mentioned.7 The missionary command is the logical consequence of singularism cum universalism, as expressed in Matthew, 28:18-20,8 and very directly in Mark 16:15.
The monotheism of these religions instills in their adherents a vertical archetype, the pyramid with an apex pointing to a distant God. The archetype is easily projected on the world as a model of centralized, even imperialist, world politics.9
This dogma is hardened by the archetype of only one God, softened by trinitarian, even quaternarian Christianity, with Mary the Mother added to God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then hardened again through doctrines of “unity in trinity.” But here considerations of quality certainly add to the quantity of deities on the top of the pyramid. In that Divine Family of four, God emanates through the Holy Spirit who in turn inseminates Mary spiritually, who in turn gives birth to Jesus, who in turn is the Christ by being God’s son, himself informed by the Holy Spirit. Only one relation is open: between God the Father and Mary the Mother, and what would be more natural than for Mary the Mother to intercede in favor of the grandchildren, the children of Jesus gone astray? Ora pro nobis. By exorcising Mary (as witnessed also in the differences in the cast of church paintings in Catholic and Protestant churches, Orthodox churches being more like the Catholic), Luther kept God as causa sua, his own cause, eliminating the escape route ausserhalb des Diestweges, on top of all being used by a woman. The result was a hardening due to the defeminization of the theoscape, the Entmariaisierung. But the basic polytheism of Christianity remained, as opposed to Judaism and Islam.
Structural violence comes in two varieties, vertical (economic exploitation and political repression) and horizontal (alienation, distance). All religions preach closeness to the Almighty and other believers; but in the vertical variety much is derived from economic and political doctrines.
At the bottom is Hinduism, with its religiously sanctioned caste system. Buddhism and related systems of belief, are much more clearly against structural violence because of the collective ethical budget which is the implication of the doctrine of annata (no eternal, unchangeable soul). And Arab slavery was not religiously legitimized in the same way as Christian slavery. But Islamic colonialism expanded rapidly after the Prophet. Northern India was conquered in 1192, particularly the parts where Buddhism was strong (Bihar, Bengal).
But what about Christianity and its predecessor, Judaism? It may be argued that in both of them there is an element of imperialism. In Judaism this may derive from the two covenants with Yahweh, and their partial manifestation in Israel I (King David and successors) and Israel II (David Ben-Gurion and successors). In Christianity, in the modern period, Catholic Kings established their empires, and the Protestants followed very quickly; Christianity became the state religion, as in the Roman Empire after +313. Colonialism, with its enormities of exploitation and repression, was justified as facilitating missionary activities among “the pagans.” Liberation from colonialism could then be granted proportionate to the extent to which adherence to Christianity was reported (Cyprus? Uganda?). Otherwise, there was the necessity of struggle, using direct violence, against the structural violence and the direct counterviolence of imperialist colonialism (Algeria, Vietnam), legitimized by Christianity, or nonviolent struggle (India and Gandhi
Protestant colonialism came later, so its colonial decline and disintegration also came later (except for the Portuguese). In both Christianities we find religious legitimation for being “people-holder” (colonialist) not just slave-holder or land-holder; in addition to the horrors of the Inquisition (Catholic) and witch processes (Catholic/Protestant). There is also the argument that Protestant slavery was the worst.10
Nothing remotely similar to all of this has been done in the name of Buddha or Buddhism on a large scale. Buddhism may not have been strong enough to stop it, but unlike other religions, Buddhism cannot be seen as legitimizing direct and structural violence either, in other words as being a carrier of cultural violence.
If we now summarize all of this, we arrive at another map, again grossly simplified:
In a class by itself is Buddhism with its clear rejection of both forms of violence, in principle, which is what we are after here. Nonviolence (ahimsa) and nonpossession are deeply embedded in doctrines, the latter as a warning against “too much,” and against possessing what has not been voluntarily offered/given.
Hinduism shares the doctrine of ahimsa but perhaps less clearly so, and accepts a major form of structural violence in the caste system. Caste is rejected by Islam, but Islam accepts use of violence to defend the faith in a doctrine of just wars, the ultimate stage of jihad (which should be translated as exertion for the faith, not as holy war).11
And the other religions are weak on both dimensions, condoning violence, or not having clear, explicit doctrines against it. General declarations in favor of peace are not good enough; the test is where one stands, and indeed what one does, on violence.
On the Peace Potential Inside Religions
No doubt the reader, like the author, will have been troubled and been thinking “yes, but,” bringing up a number of counterexamples from concrete practice, perhaps also from doctrines. Even if the general picture may be historically correct, classifying the Occidental religions and, somewhat less, the Chinese and Japanese amalgams as more expansionist than Hinduism and Buddhism, internal variations are certainly enormous, especially if sects are tolerated, even encouraged. In the second try let us now conceive the varieties of religious experience as a circular field, divided into sectors, one for each religious discourse: Judaism, Christianity, etc. There can be any number of subdivisions of the sectors: the number of sectors is infinite, being open. Religion divides and unites; new religions arise. The number does not matter, for the imagery to be developed is independent of the specific religious discourses and their numbers. The number of ways of subdividing 360 degrees will always be unbounded. Those interested in numbers might make the degrees proportionate to the adherents of that particular (sub-, subsub-) faith. And it might be worth noting that if figure 1 is folded, Judaism and the Japanese amalgam become neighbors, the Chosen People religions par excellence.
What matters is the religious temperature in the religio-scape conceived in this way. Image the center as the maximum of intensity of re-ligio, of the mystic union, with all life, all humans, with the Almighty, regardless of religious discourse, beyond any language and culture and tradition, just one-ness, the oneness that is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans. In this oneness not only violence but even contradiction become meaningless, impossible, contrary to the idea of oneness.
Imagine all the sectors emanating from this center of the religio-scape, in all directions. And imagine two concentric circles around the center: one close to the epicenter, the other further out, even much further removed from that mysterium, with the religious temperature falling as we move away from the center.
Inside the inner circle is what I call “soft” religion. The sense of unity is still there, but in everyday life, not as mystic experience. Religion is warm, compassionate, reaching out horizontally to everybody, to all life, to the whole world without ifs and buts, reservations and exceptions. Everybody, everything is brother and sister, as St. Francis had it. The lines demarcating the sectors carry no connotation of near or distant, good or bad; they are hardly even noticed except as convenient etiquettes — like people talking different languages, yet sharing the message. Geography is uninteresting, people’s minds wonder and wander beyond such trivialities, reaching out for humanity and life everywhere, sideward and backward and forward in time. True, it may cost little to love all of humanity and feel their closeness even if in fact they are very distant. Active nonviolence, peace action, do not come automatically. But it costs even less to hate them, even when in fact they are very close; giving in to simple, primitive sentiments and my own sense of chosenness, my religion is right, yours is simply wrong: the world would be better without you.
On the other side of that inner circle is hard religion, meaning the hard aspect of any religion, not that some religions are only soft and gentle, and others are only hard and rough. Of course, there is no sharp borderline between soft and hard religion, but as we move away from the heat of the epicenter, the heat that melts hardened souls, the religio-scape changes dramatically.
The demarcation lines between faiths and subfaiths become ever-more clear-cut, sharp, stark. And as we move still further out the temperature falls dramatically. Hearts get frozen, love can no longer come forth; all people see is what divides, not what unites, includes others, all others. Exclusiveness is built into their minds through axiomatic, watertight dogma, and into their behavior through vertical religious organizations.12 Dogma, and the organization of temple/synagogue/church/mosque take on their own lives far from the key message of union, uniting, ligare; they feed on the cold, on frozen souls. Hatred, violence, and war easily sprout where love has died. And as we move still further out we come to the very border of humanity, the end, the edge. What is on the other side of the outer circle? The animal kingdom? How dare we insinuate that animals are on the other end, extrapolating from the evils practiced in the name of hard religion?
An image. Let us return to the analytical mode and ask the key question: what characteristics of religions are correlated with this distance from the core, with this soft-hard, unite-divide dichotomy? Here are some hypotheses, mainly relating to the content of the religious discourse: the nature of God, the existence of Satan, the pantheon, the nature of reality — and relation to other religions and to the State.
|1||God is transcendent, above||God immanent, inside|
|2||God has Chosen People||People have Chosen Gods|
|3||There is a Satan, below||There is no Satan|
|4||Satan has Chosen people||People have Chosen Satans|
|5||Monotheism – unitarian||Polytheism – trinitarian, quaternarian|
|6||Dualism & Monism||Dualism|
|7||Universalism / singularism||Particularism / pluralism|
|8||State has Chosen Religion||Religion has no Chosen State|
All these dimensions are problematic. But the total picture may nevertheless give concrete meaning to hard-soft. Thus, a transcendent God is outside human beings — as a Father-Sky, for instance — and becomes a metaphor for vertical distance in spite of any assurance of his love for us all. If in addition he is choosy, preferring some people to others (“all humans are His children, but some more than others”), then there is not only divisiveness but also ranking, a hierarchy:
- humans above the rest of nature (speciesism)
- men above women (sexism)
- adults against children (ageism)
- whites against nonwhites (racism)
- upper classes against lower classes (classism)
- own nation against other nations (nationalism)
- own country against other countries (patriotism)
Hard religion will have difficulties remaining neutral relative to these seven fault-lines in the human condition. To that could be added that hard religion tends to believe in a God that chooses those who believe in Him, the true believers. A fair deal: I/we choose you, you choose me/us.
This is also a reason why monotheism becomes problematic. Monotheism even rules out the act of choosing; as there is only one, the choice is made by choosing (or not rejecting) that particular faith. If divine reciprocity is demanded, it might take the form of implicitly asking God to choose those who are of the same category, at least as candidates worthy of being placed higher on the ladder, men above women, etc. Not only “me,” the True Believer, but us. Satan will then choose the others.
But don’t all religions also talk soft, about love, compassion, etc.? This is where dualism enters as an epistemological and moral solution. Reality is dualistic. There is an ideal world, perhaps only in the Kingdom of Heaven, where all those rules apply and are meaningful. But then there is also the real world, the one we inhabit, the world of homo homini lupus, of bellum omnium contra omnes, however much we may deplore this state of affairs. In this world harder approaches may be needed, if for no other reason then to protect God’s own people. Of course, all of that will change when God’s teachings have come to the end of the world and True Religion is no longer threatened because his people are firmly in command. But that time has not yet come, hence soft religion for transcendental existence next to a transcendent God, and hard religion for the tough realities of this world.
The counterpart of this is found in conventional ingroup vs. outgroup divides: soft inward, hard outward; idealism inward and hard realism outward — “violence is the only language they understand,” the doctrine of hard international politics.
Soft logic is the opposite, as portrayed here; but we shall see that the indicators are more yin/yang and less Aristotelian/Cartesian. The indicators themselves are soft rather than hard; the circles are porous, osmotic, not ironclad. Immanence places God or the sacred, Otto’s mysterium, inside us, constituting a homo res sacra hominibus. God is, perhaps, no longer a subject; more like a substance lifting us. But just as a person may be closer or further away from God she/he may also, theoretically, have more or less of that-of-God in him or her. A God sufficiently high in the sky, would, like a TV satellite, radiate to much of the world; Gods closer to the ground do not have that reach. They are more local, vernacular; residing only in the tribe, the in-group. As God of the in-group, the God-substance may be evenly distributed. But immanence becomes particularistic: nothing to the out-group; all to the in-group.
Only a transcendent God can define all humans as God’s children, at least potentially; both Father-Sky and Mother-Earth can do so. An immanent God can be present in all the ways St. Francis seems to have understood, relating humans to each other directly, not indirectly via divine father- or mother-hood. But that is also where the problem enters: with no transcendental omnipotence to rely upon, only human ability to conceive of brothers and sisters, immanence may soon run up against a border. And then universalism shows its wrong side: you are all in it, you are all my children, whether you want it, or know it, or not. There are no exceptions, we are in the universal God’s big family.
But what if that family follows the hard logic to the letter, with Chosen People, monotheism, and dualism? Like a world government that turns out to be dictatorial, run by a small group (like the G7 nations today?). Better pursue soft logic further!
Granted the problems inherent in an immanence extended to the in-group only, the other aspects of soft religion may have more peace potential. When people choose their own Gods, as is more the case in the Orient, religious pluralism takes not only the form of diversity among people, but of eclecticism within individual persons. Chances are that they may choose something also chosen in an out-group, meaning that a link is established; like a Buddhist Japanese who is also a Christian. This is certainly ruled out by singularism, unless that singularism really is universalist with a universal church, possibly also a world government.
Polytheism, more Gods within one religion, offers another type of flexibility; not to be confused with pluralism, faith in more than one religion. On the list of hard-soft indicators the particularity of Christianity, the familia sagrada, is singled out for attention, whether at three (the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit) or at four (with the Mother, Mary).
With more Gods some may be harder, some softer; like God and Mary in Catholic Christianity, or Thor and Baldur in old Nordic religion. Under polytheism holy wars should be less likely. The Gods will fight among themselves; there is no God bestowing holiness on a war. But no single God of Holy Peace either.
Except, on the other side, in the afterlife, under the logic of dualism. Here comes the strength of monism, forcing adherents to work out how a logic of peace could be practiced on this earth, not providing the easy escape of die zwei Regimenten.
Does this mean that all we have is a cruel choice between a stern, choosy, punishing transcendent God-Father-Sky who, in addition, is universally valid and demands undivided faith, but does see much chance for peace in this world; and a soft God (even Gods)-as-substance permeating us all, but only for one particular group? No, it all depends on what we emphasize in our experience of/with God. It is all for us to create, to construct. Religion has not been revealed once and for all. What has been said also applies to ideologies. There is hard and soft liberalism (TNCs versus the competitive village market); hard and soft marxism (Gosplan versus small cooperatives); hard and soft democracy (the dictatorship of 51 percent in mass-society versus small groups in dialogue till consensus has been achieved), etc. But there is no hard and soft Nazism since Nazism itself is based on hatred of certain peoples. Nor is there any hard and soft Buddhism since Buddhism itself is based on love for all life. So, what then would be in the inner circle for Nazism and the outer circle for Buddhism? Maybe ritualized versions of either, but the term would be weak (Nazism, Buddhism) rather than soft.
It is for us to emphasize and create ideologies that are both soft, uniting, peaceful, world-encompassing, yet pluralist.
How to Strengthen the Softer Aspects
The answers can probably be divided in two parts: organization and content, sociology and theology.
The sociological aspect is relatively obvious: cooperation among those who identify themselves with the soft, nondividing aspects of religion and belittle or de-emphasize the harder aspects. They can be found in all religions. Since by definition the union in or through God is basic to their orientation, the idiom, the concrete religious discourse, matters less, or is at least not scrutinized for theological controversies. What matters is what we all have in common. To seek together, standing up for the softer aspects, is religious practice, changing thought into action.
That also applies to the hard religionists when they do not seek together. They are practicing what they believe in: that faiths are contradictory, irreconcilable; it is either your faith or mine, and it had better be mine! But that gives a great advantage to the softer varieties. To use a metaphor that should not be carried too far: it’s as if employees always associated easily with each other, whereas employers hated each other so much because of competition that they preferred not to meet (the opposite is probably more often the case). A Buddhist, a Sufi, a Quaker, a Baha’i may look and talk very differently and yet their messages are similar. But take religious leaders in ex-Yugoslavia. They are probably more apart than most of their adherents, but they are very strong since they often produce and reproduce State ideology.
The main theological dialogue between hard and soft has to be carried out within each religion. But why should not a soft Buddhist challenge hard Christianity? Are we not all parts of one humankind desperately searching for alternatives to war and violence, imperialism and poverty, environmental degradation and social disorganization? And maybe the harder, even the hardest, will listen more to other religion than to softer countertrends? Might they relate more easily to pagans than to dissidents?
But the main theme of the theological dialogue is relatively clear: how can the religious messages be understood in a way that makes them maximally peace productive? Can hardened religionists be convinced that the “package” of transcendence-chosenness-monotheism-dualism with universalism-singularism will never be peace productive except under conditions such as universal church/world government that in themselves (or the way to them) are not peace productive? And what happens when he (it is usually a he) responds, Maybe, but so are the Lord’s own words?
Of course, the two can go separate ways, meaning that there is probably more difference between hard and soft than among the religions. This is not necessarily a tragedy. Possibly, hard, highly divisive churches, often attached to state power, will recede into the background as relics of the past. But the current wave of fundamentalism in all religions points in the opposite direction. Hence, there is no alternative to dialogue without self-righteousness, between soft and hard, between women and men transforming hardened conflicts together.
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Source: Cross Currents, Winter 1997-98, Vol. 47 Issue 4.
- That expression presupposes a New Testament. There is sufficient overlap between the Judaic Torah, the Christian OT and the Islamic Qur’an to talk about the kitab (book) religions.
- See Thomas Ohm, Asia Looks at Western Christianity (Edinburgh: Nelson, 1959). He lists some major objections to Western Christianity: too much teaching, too definite, too rational, not enough feeling, too many words.
- I am indebted to Raimon Panikkar for the knot-net metaphor. Maybe it should also be pointed out that fishing (capturing reality?) is better done with nets without knots than with knots without nets.
- Johan Galtung, “Cultural Violence,” chap. 4, Peace by Peaceful Means (London: Sage, 1995).
- Traditionally defined by the compass, as North, East, South and West Barbarians.
- For an exploration of the relation between Buddhist thought and peace, see Johan Galtung, Buddhism: A Quest for Unity and Peace (Colombo: Sarvodaya International, 1993), especially chap. 1, “Buddhism and World Peace,” 1-23.
- One simple reason would be that in the Jewish case the Chosen People is also given a Promised Land; that land, being limited in size can only accommodate a limited number of believers.
- Imagine a 21st verse: “And don’t forget, also learn from all peoples, let their words speak to you like your words to them; because ultimately we are all one people.”
- The centralized organization of Catholic Christianity is one such projection; so was the Roman Empire. Who learnt more from whom? An interesting hypothesis might be that the archetype inspired more centralization than the system could accommodate; as seen in the period between the Concordat in Nicea in +325 and the division of the Roman Empire in +395 into two parts guided by two universalizing versions of Christianity. The third Christianity, the Protestantisms, have always been directed against centralization (hence the plural), and, unlike Catholicism, has spawned countless autonomous sects. One consequence is visible in contemporary European politics: there is more resistance against federal centralization of the European Union in Protestant than in Catholic member countries.
- This argument has been made by Frank Tannenbaum in Slave and Citizen.
- See Carsten Colpe, Der “Heilige Krieg” (Bodenheim: Hain, 1994); particularly the distinction between just war and holy war, 69ff.
- See Johan Galtung, “Social Structure and Science Structure,” Methodology and Ideology (Copenhagen: Ejlers, 1977), chap. 1, 13-40. Without developing that important theme further: this search for vertical social and cultural structures, possibly to tame its own aggressiveness, is definitely much more of a male than a female characteristic, indicating already how much better women might be for the task of softening the religious message(s) — and also indicating why they have been subdued by the religious organizations more than by most other organizations (as witnessed by the struggle merely to get position as a priest).