Most religions place four types of obligations on their followers: In
the typical order of importance, they are often:
Towards deity or deities: In Christianity, for example, many faith
groups teach that a
believer's obligations to God outweigh all other responsibilities. Depending upon the exact
grouping used, about the first half half of the Ten Commandments deal with one's
relationship to God. In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus is recorded as saying that "the
first and great commandment" is to "love the Lord thy God with all thy
heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind." Usually, no other obligation exceeds this one in importance.
Towards fellow believers: Next in importance to one's obligations to God comes the
obligation to one's fellow believers. Some examples from the Bible include:
Psalms 41:1 says: "Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the
LORD will deliver him in time of trouble."
Hebrew slaves were released from bondage after six or seven years. Non-Hebrews
slaves were kept in servitude forever.
Leviticus 19:18 says "...thou shalt love thy neighbor
Galatians 3:28 says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is
neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all
one in Christ Jesus." This implies that there are to be no
inequality of treatment among Christians; all are to be considered
Towards other humans which are not fellow believers: The Bible
delivers a mixed message on this
topic. For example, some passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
record mass murders and crimes against non-Hebrews. Some
The Book of Joshua has many descriptions of genocides against the
residents of Canaan, where helpless, unarmed aged people, newborns, infants, children and youth were
slaughtered without mercy.
2 Samuel 12:26-30 describes the torture of non-Hebrew captives.
In Matthew 15:22-28 and Mark 7:25-30, Jesus is described as meeting a
non-Jewish woman, (either a Canaanite or Greek/Syrophenecian depending on the
gospel) who sought
help for her sick daughter. Jesus
cruelly replied to the desperate mother that it was not right for him
"to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs."
i.e. it is not appropriate to take the Gospel, which was intended only for
the Jews, and offer it to Gentiles as well -- here described as sub-humans,
However, there were other passages which suggest that non-Hebrews be
treated with respect. Most notable is:
In Luke 10:25-37, a lawyer quoted the Mosaic law, saying that one is to love God and one's neighbor as
oneself. He asked Jesus "...who is my neighbor?" Jesus then
told the parable of the Good Samaritan -- a non-Hebrew who helped an
injured Hebrew. (Samaritans were despised by Jews at the time). The
message of the parable s that
every member of the
human race is one's neighbor.
Towards the earth's resources. This is quite muted in most
religions, although it is now rapidly gaining importance, as the
Genesis 1:28 has God commanding humans to: "Be fruitful, and
multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over
the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living
thing that moveth upon the earth." This has been interpreted in the
past as giving humans the right to exploit the earth's resources without
limit. More recently, it has been taken to mean that humanity should
responsibly conserve the earth's resources.
Exodus 23:10-11 instructs the Hebrews to let their land lay fallow
periodically, so that it can regenerate: "...six years thou
shalt sow thy land...But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie
These responsibilities can be shown symbolically in the following image:
The length of each line represents the typical importance given
towards each responsibility in many theistic religions.
We don't normally express our beliefs in our essays. However, we
will make an exception in this case because it seems to us to be so fundamental
We do not promote the elimination of -- or fundamental
change to the nature of -- any of these responsibilities.
We do make the radical suggestion that a reduction in religiously-motivated violence
and general quality of life would result if people's commitment to the four responsibilities were more evenly balanced,
Everyone exhibiting greater concern for the
Why organized religions offer the greatest hope for religious peace:
It is hopeless to expect religious leaders to modify their fundamental teachings in
order to eliminate religiously-motivated conflict, mass murder and genocide.
People have been murdered because of their religion for millennia.
Few religions have shown themselves willing to take steps to eliminate
religious hatred from among their own followers. There are encouraging
exceptions. Two examples are:
The Southern Baptist Convention apologized
to African-Americans for their denomination's past and present racist attitudes.
Pressure to reform will probably have to come from the believing public, rather
than from their religious leaders.
What is needed is not so much a change in religious teachings. Rather, it is
a different emphasis within the present teachings. In my opinion, religions need
to stress appropriate behavior towards persons of different faiths, and to those
who are not affiliated with any religious tradition. In graphical terms, this
means to equalize the importance of the four responsibilities shown in the above
Our feeling is that religions need to teach that:
Followers of all religions, and of none, are fellow humans of equal
The value of the life of a fellow believer is equal to the value of
All people should enjoy fundamental human rights, including freedom of
religion. This involves the freedom to choose one's religion, to change
one's faith and -- within reasonable limits -- to promote their belief
system among other people.
One's responsibility towards one's neighbor is of great importance,
about the same importance as one's responsibility towards deity/deities.
One's "neighbor" includes fellow believers, followers of other religions,
and followers of no religion -- i.e. every human on earth.
Almost all religions have an Ethic of
Reciprocity. This is a statement that one should treat others as they would
like to be treated; one should not harm others. Consider Christianity as one
It's Ethic of Reciprocity is called the Golden Rule.
One expression of this ethic appears in Matthew 7:12: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should
do to you, do ye even so to them."
If this rule were rigorously applied, then there would be little or no
religiously-inspired violence. Unfortunately, followers of each religion
often apply the Ethic only to fellow believers, and not to persons of
other faiths, and to persons of no faith.
In Luke 10:27, Jesus is recorded as saying: "Thou shalt love the Lord
thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy
strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." 1
In Luke 10:33-37, Jesus is recorded as delivering the parable of the
Good Samaritan. In essence, it teaches that every other human being on
earth is one's neighbor and has intrinsic worth -- whether or not that
other person is of the same nationality, race, or religion, etc. We might try to
extend this to persons of all sexes and sexual orientations.
Our opinion is that all religious groups need to give greater emphasis to
their Ethic of Reciprocity, and emphasize that it applies to everyone in
the world: both to fellow believers, to persons of other religions, and to
persons of no religion. They need
to teach that is is quite possible to promote the right of a person to follow a
different religion, even while rejecting the accuracy of another
person's faith or lack of faith. That is, religious tolerance is quite
independent of accepting the truth of other religions.
Some positive actions that religious leaders and followers can take to reduce
religious hatred include:
Organize community inter-faith groups throughout their area of
Pressure governments to eliminate religious discrimination in
employment, accommodation, etc.
Acknowledge that all religions, including their own, have performed evil
deeds in the past.
Teach that other religions have beliefs and practices that we can usefully
Promote human rights generally, for persons of all races, religions,
genders, sexual orientations, etc.
Modify their educational programs to teach comparative religion so
that their members will have a basic understanding of other faith groups.
Remove sexist, racist and homophobic beliefs and practices from their
own teachings and practices.