Are religions for peace?

For more than fifty years, the World Day of Peace has been celebrated on 1 January: in 2021 we are celebrating exactly the 54 th edition. Linking religions and peace is a bit difficult at first. Unfortunately, the lessons of history lead us to associate religions and wars more easily. The awareness that over the centuries religions have very often been the cause or secondary or ideological reason for conflicts and violence is a fact.

On many occasions, armed clashes, invasions, violence between peoples have been interpreted in a religious key. The historical investigation frequently highlights also how the religious motivations of a conflict are taken as a pretext to hide other very different reasons such as economic and political ones. Therefore, what scholars analyse with great precision and frankness is the link between religions and politics and also between religions and economy.

How many times, in fact, the most in-depth historical research stated that: “Actually, the real reason for the conflict was...”, placing political domination and commercial expansion at the centre. The reference to religions is therefore always exposed to manipulation of any kind. In this context, a more acute observation is that there is in all religions a perspective of universality which, also with a certain urgency, calls for the use of not entirely peaceful methods for its implementation.

Sometimes, in fact, the exhortation and the witness of one's own creed also embrace aggressive—not to say violent—ways. In every religion, then, we can find more or less present a certain “war language” that can be in vogue or forgotten with the typical oscillations of epochal sensibilities. The expression “soldier of Christ”, for example, still accompanies the conferment of Confirmation in the Christian imagination. Saint Paul also uses the language of chivalry to speak of the experience of faith: the armour of faith, the sword of the word... (Eph 6:11).

Better known, though superficially known, is the question of the so-called “holy war” within Islam (Jihād). Buddhism and Hinduism seem at first sight more “peaceful” religions, but the lessons of history and the mixture with political and economic dimensions confirm that degeneration is also possible in such religious experiences. For example, the current political situation in India influenced by a fundamentalist Hinduism warns against a superficial approach that, at times, would lead us to look fascinated at religions that seem to be only advocates of serenity and well-being and almost to fear Islam as a violent religion. The interweaving of religions and violence, religions and wars is a subject to be kept under observation at all times.

It was right to mention these issues in order to nourish a sincere awareness of reality, but above all to look at different scenarios and horizons. The most promising perspective is, in fact, that of thinking and living religions for peace. The Pope's call for Catholic Christians to hold an annual World Day of Peace is precisely in this sense. The anniversary of the 1st of January stimulates us every year to ask ourselves whether as Christians we are “peacemakers”, as the great text of the Beatitudes invites us to be. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9).

This beatitude should be more at the centre of Christian identity because the very essence of faith, being children of God, is connected with a life at the service of peace-building. A second trajectory, also marked by an intellectual depth, is the one inherent in the project of a world ethics that the Swiss theologian Hans Küng began and led in the 1990s. He coined the statement: “There will be no peace among the religions without dialogue among the religions”. In 1993, in Chicago, exactly one century after the first meeting of the Parliament of Religions, the two hundred delegates present signed a Declaration Toward a Global Ethic.

A third trajectory is linked to an experience of collaboration between religions lived by the international movement Religions for Peace ( which since 1970 has officially been working to promote dialogue between religions within the horizon of a common commitment to world peace. Religions for Peace implements many initiatives especially in the context of knowledge and information, including the publication of a useful inter-religious calendar presenting festivities, news, and traditions of dozens of religious experiences.


Fr. Giulio Osto