New Book Published (March 28, 2007): Lloyd Steffen, Professor of Religion Studies and University Chaplain, has published Holy War, Just War: Exploring the Moral Meaning of Religious Violence with Rowman and Littlefield.

You are here

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"In this important book, Lloyd Steffen argues persuasively that religion is ultimately about human choices. Whether religion serves or destroys us will be determined by the integrity of our moral vision of goodness and our willingness to allow that vision to challenge religiously inspired violence."—Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, professor of justice and peace studies, University of St. Thomas, author of Is Religion Killing Us? Violence in the Bible and the Quran

"A powerful and moving reminder of religion's power to inspire both good and evil action; to justify or restrain human destructiveness. Steffen argues persuasively that religion itself must be subject to moral scrutiny, and that our deliberations about the goodness or badness of our contemplated actions require moral - not just religious - reasoning. At a time when leaders are increasingly motivated by their interpretations of religions teachings, this book teaches us that every one of us - especially political and religious leaders - has the obligation to ensure that our conceptions of ultimacy not be overtaken by absolutist thought."—Jessica Stern, Harvard University, author of Terror in the Name of God

"Lloyd Steffen offers a much needed corrective vision of religion, and its destructive potential. The Demonic Turn is an important contribution to understanding that the margin between peace and violence in religion is always on the verge of collapsing, and often does so, with tragic consequences for humanity."—Hector Avalos, professor of religious studies, Iowa State University, author of Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence

"Steffen makes a thoughtful argument for a bold, indeed a radical idea. The god that most of us want is a god of absolute power and control who assures a steady course towards goodness no matter how morally chaotic the appearance of things may be. But Steffen argues that the idea of such an absolute god is necessarily linked to religiously legitimated violence. If we want to ameliorate the human condition we need a new understanding of 'the ultimate'. If, as Steffen argues, our understanding of god must be measured by the moral consequences of those ideas here on earth, then traditional theology has a long ways to go before it becomes less dangerous to humans."—John Raines, professor of religion, Temple University

"This is urgently relevant, present-tense theology on the power of religion to inspire either slaughter or peace. Lloyd Steffen candidly subjects religion—and even God—to deft exploratory surgery."—Daniel C. Maguire, Marquette University

"This book persuasively argues that religion is like fire: powerful, dangerous, and in need of control. This thesis is applied to an interesting variety of examples: Japanese kamikaze pilots, the suicides at Jonestown, attacks on abortion doctors, and the terrorism of September 11. Each example of religious fanaticism helps illuminate the difference between life-affirming and demonic religion.

The second half of the book provides a useful critical examination of three rival ideas about the justification of violence: pacifism, holy war/jihad, and the just war tradition. Steffen argues that even pacifists can become 'demonic' when they embrace absolute pacifism in a fanatical fashion. And he concludes that, despite its imperfections, the just war tradition represents the most moderate approach to the justification of violence.

In the end, the book provides a powerful defense of the idea that we should use morality to criticize demonic religion. But this book is not anti-religion. It avoids an outright rejection of religion and admits that religion can be life-affirming. However, it does challenge religious believers to apply moral judgment to the religious traditions that provide meaning to their lives. "—Andrew Fiala, professor of philosophy, California State University, Fresno

In 2006, Steffen's award-winning book on the death penalty was republished by Wipf & Stock Publishers.

Executing Justice:  The Moral Meaning of the Death Penalty
Lloyd H. Steffen

"This compelling book incisively analyzes every philosophical and humanitarian argument about the death penalty. It is a searching study of the ultimate invalidity of all the arguments advanced to justify the ultimate power of the state. The last chapter . . . is a powerful treatment of the reasons why Christianity must logically be opposed to the death penalty. No one is entitled to be heard in the fractious debate about the death penalty until that person has pondered the material discussed in this indispensable book."
-- Robert F. Drinan, SJ,
Professor of Law
Georgetown University Law Center

"Lloyd Steffen has powerfully explored the moral reasoning of the death penalty. By utilizing the case of Willie Darden, he brings an abstract argument home on a personal level. Finally he poses what this means for those of us who are Christians. What will be your answer? This book provides an excellent consideration of all the available options."
-- Rev. Joseph B. Ingle,
Nobel Peace Prize nominee for his
ministry to persons on death row

"We have, by now, a shelf of books that offer empirical, constitutional, or political discussions of the death penalty. What we don't have is a comprehensive, accessible, and persuasive evaluation of the death penalty in our society from the moral point of view. Thanks to Lloyd Steffen's new book, that need has been met. He enables us to see in patient detail just how difficult -- if he is right, how impossible -- it is to defend the death penalty on moral grounds. May his argument reach and persuade many!"
-- Hugo Adam Bedau,
editor of The Death Penalty in
America: Current Controversies

"There is no moral, legal, or ethical justification for the death penalty, and Executing Justice makes this abundantly clear. Steffen makes a compelling case that America can lift itself into the league of nations that long ago abandoned this barbaric practice."
-- Morris Dees,
cofounder and chief trial counsel of the
Southern Poverty Law Center

Lloyd Steffen is University Chaplain, Professor and Chair of the Religion Studies Department at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Life/Choice: The Theory of Just Abortion (1994) and The Demonic Turn: The Power of Religion to Inspire or Restrain Violence(2003).

ISBN: 1-59752-597-9 / 194pg. / $17.60