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Address by GEORGE CAREY, Archbishop of Canterbury
Delivered to the Town Hall of Los Angeles, California, May 4, 1996
'For God doth know how many now in health Shall drop their blood in approbation Of what your Reverence shall incite us to. Therefore take heed how you impawn our person How you awake our sleeping sword of war'
(Henry V. Act. I Scene 11).
Shakespeare's warning to the then Archbishop of Canterbury reveals some of the ambivalence concerning the relationship of religion to peace. In the play just quoted the Archbishop lends his moral authority to the rightness of war against the French. Henry's sober warning to 'take heed' is one that has often been ignored through the centuries. Indeed, there are many who argue that religion has no grounds for claiming the high moral ground when it comes to peace. They assert that more cruelty, more wars, violence, bloodshed and evil have been perpetrated systematically in the name of religion than through any other disease of the human mind.
In this lecture I shall own up quite fairly to the responsibility religion must acknowledge in this regard. It is, however, also important to remind ourselves of the unspeakable cruelty and evil carried out by Communist and Nazi regimes which rejected religion. Human sinfulness can pollute every kind of belief system. Having said that, we can all agree at the very outset that religion has always had a moral responsibility to 'take heed how it awakens the sleeping sword of war.' One of the remarkable aspects of humankind's religious quest is its resilience. Both Nazism and Communism are ideologically dead. Those forms of it which we see presently in the former Soviet Union seem to be the vehicle for various political and economic aspirations and discontents rather than an ideological commitment to the doctrines of Karl Marx and Lenin. What has not died is religion. Indeed it is awesomely present wherever we look in the world, not least those areas of the world where violence, terror and war continue to plague the human race. I think immediately of the Sudan, Israel and Palestine, Algeria and Libya, India, to say nothing of Northern Ireland and many parts of Africa. And if we consider our own communities, we find lurking there some of the ingredients for potential religious conflict, misunderstanding and intolerance.
Three years ago Samuel P. Huntington, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and Director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University raised a question which we still need to pursue. Some of his critics did not stop to notice that his essay was a question: 'The Clash of Civilisations?' His thesis focused on the collapse of Communism and his observation that the new fault lines of conflict did not appear to be primarily econonic or political but cultural and religious. 'The fault lines of civilisations will be the battle lines of the future,' he claimed.
But what did he mean by 'civilisations' and how does that relate to religions? A civilisation, according to Huntington is a 'cultural entity' into which towns, cities and countries are subsumed. A civilisation is the 'highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity possible.' He goes on to say: Civilisations are differentiated from each other by history, culture, tradition and, most important, by religion.' Prof. Huntington reaches the high point of his argument when the proposition is advanced that conflict, between Islam and the West is probable. He quotes a well known Muslim author, M.J. Akbar who stated that 'the West's next confrontation is definitely going to come from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will come.'
I will not trouble you with further exploration of that thesis except to say that it has been rigorously examined and, in my view, too quickly discounted in the West. For some it is too alarmist, too exaggerated and too readily exploits the 'bogey' view of Islam. For others its beguiling hypothesis is negated by the argument that the bloodiest …