Violence of Religion

           Cavanaugh’s article “The Violence of ‘Religion’: Examining a Prevalent Myth” gives an interesting definition of religion which he then goes throughout the paper to criticize. He also writes a critique of the secular liberal view that “religion is violent,” which, before reading this article, I had never thought about. The article gave me a new perspective which I will discuss throughout this paper.

            Cavanaugh begins his article stating “one of the most prevalent myths in Western culture” that widespread religion causes violence, or is at least a significant contributing factor in many conflicts of human history. At the end of his long list of ‘violence done by religions’ he says that the definition of “religion” isn’t clear. He says that “religion and culture” often get grouped together but are never distinguished from one another. He goes on to admit that there are numerous religions which support that violence is helpful and necessary but the attempt to divide them into “religion” and “secular” phenomena and claim that the former is more prone to violence isn’t helpful.

            I think the definition of religion that’s being criticized, that religion and culture have become indistinguishable from one another makes sense and there are many examples of it in daily life. For example, when people in the west talk about the middle east, we tend to call the people there “Muslims.” We don’t call them “Iraqi’s” or  “Afghan’s,” which would indicate their culture and where they’re from. Instead, we identify them only as their religion.

            That leads into Cavanaugh’s  main critique of the secular liberal view that religion is violent. On page 7 Cavanaugh says that he’s trying to separate out a category called “religion” which is prone to violence because it’s absolutist, divisive, and non-rational, compared to a ‘secular’ reality that’s less prone to violence, presumably because it’s less absolutist, more unitive, and more rational. He goes on to give a list of ideologies, practices, and institutions that have been known to support violence under certain conditions but says this, which I found to be the most important line in his article thus far: “what is not helpful is the attempt to divide the above list into ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ phenomena, and claim that the former are more prone to violence.”

            I somewhat agree with Cavanaugh’s argument that religion causes violence because it delegitimizes certain kinds of violence (namely Muslim) and legitimates other kinds of violence (namely, secular western ideals). I do agree that certain cultures are delegitimized and I do agree that others are legitimized, but I don’t agree that it’s mainly secular ideals that cause ‘violence in religion.’ Actually, I believe the problem is between non-secular westerners and non-secular non-westerners.

            If we’re going to argue that Muslim’s “haven’t learned to privatize matters of faith” we should also argue that non-secular western culture hasn’t, either. Cavanaugh states that Muslim culture, for example, is absolutist, divisive and irrational, whereas western culture is modest in its claims to truth, unitive, and rational. I don’t agree with this.

            Westerners have a skewed view of Muslim’s. Because of the terrorist attacks and our media portraying Muslim’s badly, we lump all people of the Muslim faith as extremists (and even terrorists). For this reason I don’t think it’s fair to say that Muslim cultures haven’t learned to privatize matters of faith or to call them irrational. If we apply the same standards to a non-secular western culture, for example, Christians, they can also be called irrational and be accused of not knowing to privatize matters of faith.

            To illustrate my point I’ll use the example of anti-abortionists. In the United States there is an underground terrorist organization called the Army of God. It has been responsible for a substantial amount of anti-abortion violence. In addition to numerous property crimes, the group has also committed acts of kidnapping, attempted murder, and actual murder. Law enforcement officials have found the Army of God Manual, which is a tactical guilde to arson, chemical attacks, invasions, and bombings. This group is clearly a non-secular monotheistic terrorist group, so why don’t we view all non-secular monotheists as terrorists (as we do Muslims)?

            To summarize, I do agree with Cavanaugh that religion oftentimes gets confused with culture and that the two are intertwined. I also do agree that some religious violence is deemed acceptable, whereas other religious violence is delegitimized. The point I do not agree with is that it’s the secular western groups causing the problems. I believe the “clash of religion” or “culture wars” are caused both in part by non-secular western groups as well as non-secular non-western groups.

            Going back to Cavanaugh’s critique of the secular liberal view that religion is violent, I do agree. I believe the majority of secularists view certain groups in certain religions to be violent or the cause of violence in the past but I don’t agree that secular liberals think religion as a whole is violent. I’m certain there are some ignorant secular liberals that do believe that all religion is bad because it causes violence but I don’t believe it does. Muslim’s view suicide bombers in their religion the same way we view the members of the Westboro Baptist Church; that is, every religion has extremists but as a whole they aren’t violent or necessarily “bad.” 

G. University provides support for military members

**Names and location have been changed for anonymity**

                Since Sept. 11, 2001, there has been record numbers of veterans returning from war and heading to college. This is because the government created a special bill that would pay all the cost of a four-year degree. Since this bills creation it has helped more than 860,000 veterans go to school.

                These veterans aren’t like traditional students, however. Many have been to war and have emotional or physical scarring. Many of the veterans are older than traditional students and aren’t accustomed to life outside the military. These students come with their own set of needs and colleges are attempting to find ways to accommodate the growing number of student veterans.

                G. University is one college that has found a way to successfully integrate its veterans into civilian and student life. Victory Media publishes a list each year honoring the top 20 percent of colleges, universities and trade schools in the country that are “doing the most to embrace military service members, veterans and spouses as students and ensure their success on campus” and G. University has made that list for the fifth consecutive year.

                The data Victory Media collected was from a survey of more than 10,000 Veteran Affair approved schools nationwide. The findings are compiled and weighted according to the following categories to determine a final score:

                24 percent military support on campus; 20 percent academic credibility; 10 percent of military students enrolled; ten percent academic credit for military service; ten percent flexibility for military students; five percent for veteran graduation rates; five percent for student tuition assistance; five percent on results of a student survey; five percent for military spouse policies; and one percent on government approval.

                There are a number of things G. University has done to help ensure their student veterans are getting the support they need to succeed. In every department of the school there are designated primary contacts to help with issues pertaining to veteran struggles.

                Melanie works in admissions and is the contact person for veterans. “We have a group called the Veterans Network which is made up of experts in their designated areas that come together to support the specific needs of folks in the military,” she said. “I’m just the contact point for admissions, as there is no one person in charge of recruiting veterans to campus. In fact, most of our veterans are transfer students,” she said.

                Melanie said there is anywhere from 250 to 400 undergraduate applicants each year that indicate they are active military, veterans or dependents or spouses of someone serving in the military.

                According to the Registrar’s office at G. University, veteran enrollment over the past 20 years since every fall from 1994 to 2003 has averaged 250 student veterans. However, after the post 9/11 bill was introduced in fall 2009 enrollment doubled from the prior year and has still continued to grow.

                Nicholas works in personal, professional and career assistance at G. University and has been designated as the department’s veteran contact. His job has two main components, the first is providing personal counseling and the second is providing career counseling.

                “I often work with veterans presenting with deployment or reintegration concerns,” he said. “I also have experience working with trauma survivors and often help veterans cope with difficulties related to their military involvement,” he said.

                “In career counseling, I focus on helping veterans who are confused about their career path or deciding on a major. This often includes self-exploration, finding congruent careers and majors, researching careers, and developing a career plan,” he said. “Also, I have helped veterans identify ways to translate their military experience to strengthen their marketability in the job search process.”

                Nicholas said between the two positions the main focus of his work with veterans and service members is being a resource and support for any career or personal concerns and connecting them with helpful university and community resources.  

                G. University has also created a Veterans Network, which includes a designated lounge area in the K. Center, for student veterans to study, relax, and meet other veterans. The lounge was dedicated by President T.H.  on Nov. 11 of this year and it includes a TV, walls adorned with past military medals, and a spacious area for individuals to meet.

                The Veterans Network has meetings every Wednesday where they discuss military related issues or just come to enjoy each others’ company. Christopher spent eight years in the Army and is now a freshman at G. University and he serves as the Veterans Network’s secretary and risk manager. He says his personal experiences working with G. University veteran liaisons has been positive and the staff has done a fantastic job but there are some things he would like to see change.

                “The only thing I believe G. University needs to do is to advertise the service a bit more throughout the campus and not just through email,” he said. “We are pushing a population of 600 veterans and I believe many don’t even know about the services provided or even that there is a student veteran’s organization here on campus,” he said.

                Duane is also a veteran on campus. He served four years in the Air Force and is still in the reserves and his transition to G. University in the summer of 2012 was very smooth. “The veteran aids were great,” he said. “They answered all my questions and signing up for classes and doing funding paperwork was really easy.”

                There’s another new group on G. University’s campus starting winter semester called G. University Military Support, which aims to provide a place for wives, girlfriends, or children of active or inactive duty military members to gather and meet one another.

                Alexandra is the student on campus that started the group. Her husband has been in the Army National Guard for six years and she says she has felt like part of a minority since she began at G. University.

                “It can be difficult to initially fit into a new group of young people simply because they don’t understand how we think and feel,” Furman said. “It was my goal to find a group here at G. University that catered to military significant others for support, friendship and information. When I was informed there was no such group here, that’s when I started this journey of branching out to men and women like myself,” she said.

                “It’s not easy to network for a group of military significant others, especially since those that aren’t spouses aren’t technically attached to any of the service members info, but that’s why this group is so crucial,” she said. “The people who are nothing significant in the military’s eyes are in need of the same support, friendship and information, and my hopes for this Military Support group is that we can reach out to other significant others and raise awareness of yet another source of diversity on campus,” Alexandra said.

                Julie is a wife of a medically retired Army combat medic and a member of the new group and she feels it’s about time there was a group like this. “I think G. University focuses more on the veterans and tends to forget about the family members that are affected by the veteran,” she said. “I feel the military spouse group will be a great asset to G. University because it will allow the women to have an outlet and to interact with others who are in the same boat as them,” she said.

                “We are non-traditional students and it’s difficult to feel like we fit in when we have been through so much,” she said.

                Nicole shares those sentiments. Her boyfriend has been active duty in the Air Force since 2012 and she’s relieved G. University is finally recognizing significant others of military members.

                “I feel like everyone likes the fact I have a man in a uniform but they don’t understand that you’re not doing it for the uniform, you’re doing it for the person,” she said. “I do get depressed when I see my friends with their boyfriends on campus and how easy it is for them to hang out with their boyfriends every night. It’s really hard for me and I feel like my friends don’t understand just how hard it is so I think this network will help a lot!”

                Amanda’s husband has been active duty in the Army for seven months and she says she has felt isolated on campus but hopes that will change with the new group. “I mostly feel isolated due to not many people being able to understand,” she said. “I’m hoping it will allow me to connect with more people that understand what I’m going through.”

                G. University’s President T.H. believes G. University’s is doing a good job incorporating veterans but he wants to continue improving.

                “As we look ahead we see more veterans coming back to civilian life and many of them have skills and values needed in the workplace. G. University wants to serve those who have served with offering opportunities for service members who have potential and the desire to achieve their degree,” he said.

                “G. University has seen a dramatic increase in the number of veterans and they come from more than Michigan, therefore, our desire to offer in-state tuition to all veterans no matter which state they come from or are going to is important,” he said. “We have significantly improved our services to them in financial aid and in academic advising, as well as creating a welcoming university with the new Veteran Lounge,” Haas said.

                “We continue to seek input from veterans, students, faculty and staff to ensure that we are doing the best we can in our service to our students and doing it right for the right reasons. We aim to create opportunities for those who have served us!”

Understanding Islam: GV Muslims looking for understanding and acceptance

**Names and school title have been changed for anonymity**
 

                GV’s population is made up of students with many different religious beliefs ranging from typical popular Christian faiths to the Jewish student organization. However, there is a very small percentage of students on campus that identify as Muslims, or followers of the Islamic faith.

                Islam is a monotheistic religion just like Judaism and Christianity. It believes in the same prophets as Christians with one exception being the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims believe Muhammad was a prophet and a messenger, like Moses and Jesus, who spread the word of God through scripture. Two key differences between Christianity and Islam is Islam believes God has no sons and their book is the Holy Quran.

                “Muslims don’t worship a different God than Christians or Jews worship. It’s the same deity, however in Islam you’ll hear God being referred to as Allah, which is literally the Arabic translation of the term God,” Amoon, leader of the GVSU Student Muslim Association said.

                Amoon takes her religion very seriously and considers it her way of life.

                “One of the most importantly daily lessons is the importance of serving God in everything you do,” Amoon said. “When we pray we serve God; when we do charity we serve God; when we are kind to others it’s also a form of service to god.”

                Three members of the Muslim Students Association have all had incidents with bullying and discrimination because of their religion and all three believe that the media gives their religion a bad reputation. This group doesn’t only get together to pray and discuss their religion but also in hopes to clear the negative stereotypes that go along with Islam.

                “Often times the religion of Islam is portrayed very negatively in the media so it leaves very little room for question and a lot of room for anger and fear,” Amoon said.

                Because of the negative portrayal Muslims are given in the media in America, Amoon has faced blatant discrimination while wearing her hijab (headscarf).

                “I have had a professor who stated that he believes Muslims are uneducated and extreme terrorists,” Amoon said. “The one thing I wish people knew about Islam is that they probably have more similarities with Muslims than they think they do.”

                Amoon isn’t the only Muslim on campus to deal with discrimination. Sokina has also dealt with it but she has her own way of fighting back.

                “In the media I have read about people who are hateful towards Islam and Muslims, deeming us to be incompetent, oppressed and ignorant and this only made me love my religion more,” Sokina said. “After that I began wearing the hijab to show I’m a Muslim. I wear it to show that I’m an educated Muslim woman who is not oppressed, who’s capable of making her own decisions, and who isn’t violent. I wear it to be a living, breathing example of Islam.”

                Zaineb, another member of the Student Muslim Association, also wishes outsiders and the media wouldn’t judge them for their religion.

                “I used to have a bully whose parents rotted his brain into thinking that all Muslims and Arabs were terrorists,” Zaineb said. “But now that he’s older and more educated about the people and the religion he’s actually a good friend of mine.”

                Despite being judged for her religion Zaineb still embraces it daily.

                “Whatever decisions I make during my day, I think ‘God is watching, is this something I should be doing?’” Zaineb said. “Islam gives me boundaries to live within because of that and comfort when I need it. It’s a peaceful religion, contrary to what the media has portrayed it.”