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Avalos Offers Anti-Violence Theories

“Can there be peace in the Middle East or anywhere else?” That was the question of the day during a lecture at Berea College by Dr. Hector Avalos, associate professor of religious studies at Iowa State University. Avalos’ PowerPoint presentation was entitled “Understanding Religious Violence: a New Theory for an Old Problem.”

Dr. Hector Avalos discusses religious violence

A native of Mexico, the Harvard-educated professor is the founder and director of the U.S. Latino Studies program at ISU. He is also the author of several books including one about the topic of the afternoon, “Fighting Words – The Origins of Religious Violence.”

The engaging lecturer explained that there are two popular theories of the nature of religious violence. Essentialism says that most religions are essentially good, but the violence is caused by deviant or fundamentalists forms. The anti-colonialism belief focuses on Islamic violence and states that it is chiefly a reaction against secularization and colonialism by the western nations.

Avalos believes essentialism is flawed because it assumes there is a “true” form of a religion, which is faith-based and therefore unverifiable. “Such a claim is no less justified than the claim that a violent form of a religion is the ‘true’ form.” He backed this up by quoting author Regina Schwartz’s belief that monotheism is inherently prone to violence. “Any time you say there is only one true God, it creates insiders and outsiders,” Avalos explained.

The former Pentecostal preacher who now describes himself as a human secularist, also partially rejects the anti-colonialism theory because all Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) have a history in colonization. “Islam colonized the West before the West colonized Islamic countries,” he pointed out.

Avalos’ theory is that “most violence, if not all, is the result of scarce resources, real or perceived. When religion causes violence, it does so because it has created new scarce resources.” He said the lack of love, privilege or respect can cause family conflicts and even violence. The theory can be seen on the national level with scarcities in water, political power, justice and gender equality, and internationally with a scarcity of food, energy, information and weapons. “If violence caused by resources that are actually scarce is bad enough, then violence caused by belief in non-existent beings or forces is even worse,” he theorized.

The lecturer says that there are both pessimistic and optimistic scenarios for the world’s future. Pessimists would say that we are heading toward a global religious war with nuclear weapons (a continuation of old Crusade-style conflicts); there will be a targeting of sacred sites (some of which has already occurred in Iraq) and long-term multi-generational wars.

On the other hand, he believes hope is possible if there are aggressive educational efforts that focus on non-religious approaches to solving problems, efforts to reverse scarcities by creating abundance and more inclusion,; recognition of violence in our own religious texts, and zero tolerance for any scripture that advocates violence at any time.

“I don’t believe we will have 100 percent peace because there will always be scarcities.” Avalos believes the number of scarcities can be narrowed if the world deals with actual scarcities as opposed to those that are unverifiable.

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