Pope Francis: ‘Violence Is the Negation of Every Authentic Religious Expression’

Pope Francis gives a weekly general audience in St Peter's square, on January 24, 2018 in Vatican. / AFP PHOTO / Andreas SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

We have the duty to “expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion,” Pope Francis told a group of political and religious leaders Friday, insisting that all religions want peace.

In a meeting with participants in an international conference titled “Tackling violence committed in the name of religion,” the pope stressed the importance of being able to discuss how best to respond to acts of violence committed in the name of religion.

God “exhorts us to reject the way of violence,” Francis said, insisting that above all “religions are called to respect this imperative, since, for all our need of the Absolute, it is essential that we reject any ‘absolutizing’ that would justify violence.”

Violence, he said, “is the negation of every authentic religious expression.”

As he has done in other occasions, Pope Francis appeared to take for granted that all religions believe in the same God and teach the same moral precepts of right and wrong. In his address, he made no attempt to distinguish between the beliefs of Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, Jews and Wiccans, insisting instead that “genuinely religious persons” know that “God is always goodness, love and compassion.”

In this regard, Francis’ approach differs radically from that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who exhibited a much more nuanced understanding of different religious traditions. Benedict seemed convinced that few common elements could be applied to all religions and that each religion needed to be evaluated on its own merits.

Even prior to his election as pope, Benedict observed that along with healthy religions there are also “deviant, esoteric forms of religion on offer,” while also speaking of “pathological” religious traditions. He also wrote of religions that are “obviously sick” and of religions that are “destructive for man.” Especially with the detachment of religion from reason, he wrote, “pathological forms of religion are constantly increasing.”

Benedict said that among different religions, “even the gods are not all alike,” and that there are, in fact, some “decidedly negative divine figures.” A brief glimpse at the history of religions, he claimed, is sufficient to disprove the idea that all religions are the same or merit equal approval. While some religions encourage a person in his pursuit of virtue, others “make it harder for man to be good,” he said.

Spokespersons for the Islamic State terror group would seem to corroborate Benedict’s analysis. While Pope Francis notoriously refused to attribute Islamic terrorism to religious motives, insisting that “Muslim terrorism does not exist,” the Islamic State reacted strongly, assuring the pope that their sole motivation is religious and sanctioned by Allah in the Qur’an.

In a 2016 issue of Dabiq, the propaganda magazine of the Islamic State, ISIS criticized Francis for his naïve conviction that Muslims want peace and that acts of Islamic terror are not religiously motivated.

“This is a divinely-warranted war between the Muslim nation and the nations of disbelief,” the authors stated in an article titled “By the Sword.”

The authors attacked Francis for claiming that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Qur’an are opposed to every form of violence,” saying that by doing this, “Francis continues to hide behind a deceptive veil of ‘good will,’ covering his actual intentions of pacifying the Muslim nation.”

Pope Francis “has struggled against reality” in his efforts to portray Islam as a religion of peace, the article insisted, before going on to urge all Muslims to take up the sword of jihad, the “greatest obligation” of a true Muslim.

In his address at the Vatican Friday, Pope Francis said that religious leaders “have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God,” he said, referring to an earlier address of his to participants in a peace conference in Cairo.

“Violence promoted and carried out in the name of religion can only discredit religion itself,” the pope added. “Consequently, such violence must be condemned by all, and especially by genuinely religious persons, who know that God is always goodness, love and compassion, and that in him there is no room for hatred, resentment or vengeance.”

“The religious person knows that among the greatest blasphemies is to invoke God as the justification for one’s own sins and crimes, to invoke him in order to justify killing, mass murder, enslavement, exploitation in whatever form, oppression and persecution of individuals and entire populations,” he said.

“The religious person knows that God is the Holy One, and that no one can claim to use his name in order to perpetrate evil,” he added.

The pontiff concluded his address by calling for a common engagement to renounce religiously motivated violence in all its forms.

There is a need, he said, “for a common commitment on the part of political authorities, religious leaders, teachers and those engaged in the fields of education, training and communications, to warn all those tempted by perverse forms of misguided religiosity that these have nothing to do with the profession of a religion worthy of this name.”

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