On the brink of World War II, Robinson Jeffers penned a poem titled “The Bloody Sire,” which includes the tag-line, “Violence is the sire of all the world’s values.” This profound collection of essays and responses seeks to challenge that sentiment. The editors, both professors at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, have created a rich tableau of the breadth and depth of world religions on violence and peacemaking. The seven essays represent Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Native American religion. Each essay is followed by two responses from other authors.
This collection works beautifully on at least three levels. It succeeds in its primary intent: “This book is motivated by the need to place the meaning of peace, violence, nonviolence, and peacemaking in particular religious contexts” (p. 2). It serves as a primer of these seven world religions with reference to sacred texts/stories, rituals, and practices. It could serve as a textbook for a high school or college course, with questions for discussion at the end of each chapter, references and additional readings, and a glossary at the end of most chapters.
Each author maintains her or his faithfulness to their own particular tradition while opening wide the door for dialogue and cooperation. Each seeks to [End Page 617] “de-mystify” their tradition by explaining and defining terms that are often used in public discourse without the context of practice and ritual or their place in sacred texts. The authors also de-romanticize the many modern stereotypes, such as the Native American “warrior” or the dispassionate Buddhist “monk,” thereby dealing honestly with both the history of violence and warfare and the place of “permissible violence” in each tradition.
The most remarkable and challenging essay is the final one by Tink Tinker: “The Irrelevance of euro-christian Dichotomies for Indigenous Peoples: Beyond Violence to a Vision of Cosmic Balance.” His argument calls into question all the philosophical and epistemological assumptions of the other essays. He also highlights what is present in many of the other essays, namely, that war and violence are not limited to “human” populations but impact “all our relatives.”
Each author is faithful to the text/tradition and forthright about how their religion has adapted to changing circumstances—especially helpful in discussing responses to violence and war over the course of history. They also enumerate contemporary groups and movements that are seeking peace and an end to violence in the modern world.
This book is not an appeal to “pacifism” or an acceptance of the status quo. It is above all a call to what is already inherent in each of these religious traditions: the vision of a world in harmony, a world of justice with nonviolence. All of the authors insist that the role of their religious effort is to minimize violence through the practice of balance, nonviolence, and mutual respect. These essays make it clear that social and political actions as well as attention to societal ethics are as important as personal piety and an emphasis on personal “salvation.”