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Buddhist-Christian Studies 23 (2003) 135-137

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The 2002 Meeting of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies

Alice Keefe
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

"Religious Responses to Violence" was the theme for the program at the SBCS Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada, on November 22-23, 2002. Speaking from Christian and Jewish perspectives, the presenters in Session I were Harold Kasimow, Professor Emeritus of Grinnell College; Elaine MacInnes, O.L.M.; Sarah Pinnock of Trinity University; and Rebekah Miles from the Perkins School of Theology. Responding from a Buddhist perspective was Virginia Strauss of the Boston Research Center. Session II offered reflections on Buddhist responses to violence from Gene Reeves of the International Buddhist Congregation; Christopher Ives of Stonehill College; and John Makransky, professor of Religious Studies at Boston College and a Buddhist teacher, with a Christian response from Theodore Walker of Perkins School of Theology, noted for his work in Black theology.

Opening Session I, Harold Kasimow explored Jewish responses to violence, which he finds similar in many ways to responses to violence in Mahayana Buddhism. Both traditions unequivocally condemn violence. Basic to Jewish reflection on violence is the great commandment that one shall love one's neighbor as oneself, along with the principle that all humans are created in the image of God; therefore, as Rabbi Akiva taught, whoever sheds blood diminishes God's presence in the world. But like Mahayana Buddhism, the Jewish tradition admits to rare cases where violence may be legitimately used in a spirit of compassion when the lives of others are at stake. On this point, Kasimow, himself a Holocaust survivor, cited Abraham Heschel, who said that "indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself." Heschel dreamed of a world rid of evil by human effort, and he suggested that interfaith dialogue serves as a step toward this goal as it works against the evil of demonizing the "other."

Sarah Pinnock, who has written on the religious journeys of Holocaust survivors, explored the themes of memory, solidarity, hope, and mystical faith as compelling Christian modes of survival and resistance in the face of evil. Logic cannot solve the problem of evil, but through memory, suffering is not forgotten; through solidarity, we identify and join with the victimized in resistance to evil; and through hope, we find the energy for resistance. Mystical faith discovers divine transcendence in all things, while abandoning egotistical demands that God be the world's puppet master; [End Page 135] in mystical faith, Christians do not look for divine intervention, but for human beings to act for God against evil.

Rebekah Miles, a Christian ethicist, offered a lucid outline of three distinct Christian approaches to violence: (1) absolute pacificism, which rejects the use of violence for any reason; (2) the "crusade" perspective, which justifies war when it can be construed as a conflict between good and evil and which calls for the total eradication of evil in the form of the enemy; and (3) the "just war" perspective, which stipulates precise criteria for instances when the use of violence may be justified and places restraints on any exercise of violence. In addition to this helpful overview, she engaged arguments (put forth by Rosemary Ruether, SharonWelch, and ReginaSchwartz) that there is something inherent in the nature of Western monotheism that serves to legitimate and encourage violence, and argued for divine transcendence as undergirding the effective power of the prophetic critique against all forms of idolatry and tyranny.

The final Christian presenter was Elaine MacInnes, O.L.M., a Catholic nun and Zen master who is noted for her activist work in prison ministry in the Philippines and in Canada. She reminded us that even as violence brings suffering, it is at the same time a mystery in that it carries a redeeming potential to rid us of all that is false. It is the cultivation of silence that allows the sacred inner life to do its work.

Responding from a Buddhist perspective, Virginia Strauss returned to the problem of the human desire for retributory justice and looked to Buddhism...


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