WHY RELIGIONS SOMETIMES PROMOTE HATRED, VIOLENCE, AND GENOCIDE
WHAT BELIEVERS THINK OF THEIR OWN
RELIGION COMPARED TO OTHER FAITHS
We have a hunch that a root cause of much of the world's
religiously-motivated conflicts -- oppression, murder, mass murder, and
genocide -- is to be found in religious believers'
own concept of the nature of their own religion as compared to other religions.
If this is true, then religious discrimination and violence may be reduced by
modifying the teachings by religious leaders. Unfortunately, the cure is
impossible to implement.
According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World
Christian Encyclopedia" there are 19 major world religions which are
subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many more smaller
ones. 1 With such religious
diversity throughout the world, there is little
agreement about the meanings of basic religious terms. We use the following
definitions in this web site:
Religion: Our essays define "religion" very broadly
as: "...any specific system of belief about a deity or deities, often involving rituals, a
code of ethics, a
philosophy of life, and a specific worldview."
A worldview is a set of basic, foundational beliefs concerning deity,
humanity and the rest of the universe. This is not a perfect definition. It
does not fit well with such most traditions of
Buddhism and Atheism that have no concept of
deity. It is broad enough to include communism and other belief systems that
are not normally thought of as religions. Still, it is the best that we have
found to date.
Theistic religion: This is refers to a set of beliefs, usually
involving the existence of a single personal deity who created the universe,
continues to control it, and seeks a relationship with humans. We use the term in its
most general sense to involve religions which believe in a deity or deities
consisting of a God, a Trinity, Gods, a Goddess, Goddesses, or a pantheon of
Gods and Goddesses.
Monotheistic religion: This is a theistic religion which involves
belief in a single, personal God. Typical examples are Islam and
Judaism who believe in a single, indivisible deity. Christians generally
believe in a Trinity: three persons in one deity. They regard themselves as
also being monotheists. Together, their followers account for about
53% of the world's population. Since most of the religiously motivated
violence in the world is linked to these three monotheistic religions, we will
concentrate on them in this essay
For simplicity, we will use the term "God" in this essay to include a deity
viewed as male, female or without gender. Since there is no generally accepted
gender-free pronouns, we will refer to God as "he."
The two basic types of religions:
One way to view world religions is to divide them into two groups: "top-down"
and "bottom-up" faiths:
A top-down religion is one in which God has revealed himself to
humanity. Typically, this type of religion teaches that God created
humanity, the world, the solar system, and the rest of the universe. He gave
humans a moral and legal code, and has communicated his expectations of
humanity to us. God is normally considered all powerful, all knowing and all
good (omnipotent, omniscient and omnibeneficient), and without error. Many
top-down religions teach that God either dictated their holy book, or
communicated its contents through an intermediary, or inspired its writers
to write error-free text.
A bottom-up religion is one created solely by humans. The
founders attempt to describe their best impression of what God might be
like. Their descriptions of the origins of animal species, the Earth itself
and the rest of the universe reflect their level of scientific knowledge. In
the case of ancient religions, this might be quite limited. Their moral and
legal codes tend to follow the values of their own culture, which is often
tribal in nature. They attribute these laws to God in order to pressure
their fellow believers in to accepting them. The authors invent some form of
life after death, which may take the form of eternal life in a Heaven,
Paradise, Purgatory, Hell, Limbo, etc. Alternatively, it might involve
reincarnation -- returning to Earth after death to experience additional
lifetimes. Holy texts of bottom-up religions show a gradual evolution of
religious and spiritual thought when their oldest writings are compared to
the newest texts.
How people view their own religion, and other religions:
Many, perhaps most, people view their own religion as the only top-down
religion in the world. They believe that their God is the only deity in
existence. Their God created humans and the universe, and gave humanity its only
valid moral codes. Their fellow believers are often believed to be the only
people who are assured of salvation and eternal life in Heaven or Paradise.
Those of other faiths have no such certainty of an afterlife. Knowing that their
religion is true and that other religions are in various degrees of error, it
can become difficult to extend religious freedom to persons of other faiths.
Some top-down believers accept the Golden Rule, but apply it mainly to fellow
believers, to the exclusion of followers of other faiths.
Followers of the only top-down religion often consider all other religions to
be bottom-up faiths -- ones that teach false Gods and a false moral code. These
other Gods are created by humans rather than vice-versa. Their Gods may even be
considered as demons. These bottom-up faiths are seen as leading their
membership down a trail of destruction. They are often viewed as having a
negative affect on society.
Implication of this viewpoint:
A person born in, say, Texas will very likely grow up to be a conservative Christian. They
would be a firm believer in the Trinity and would fully expect to go to Heaven
after they died. But if circumstances had been different -- perhaps the stork
became disoriented in a storm -- and they had been born
and raised in Saudi Arabia, they would almost certainly be a Muslim, believing
in Allah as the sole, undivided deity, and hoping for an eternity in Paradise.
If they had been born in India, they probably would have adopted Hinduism and
believed in the panentheistic
principle of Brahman -- that all reality is a unity. They would believe in the
transmigration of the soul expect to reborn into a new body after death --
hopefully a human body. The religious beliefs that a person hold so firmly are
largely an accident of birth location.
With the various religions teaching different beliefs and practices, it can
be argued that only one faith teaches the truth; perhaps none do. If there are
270 major religions in the world, then -- to a first approximation -- the
chances of any one religion being completely true is miniscule. Yet people
tenaciously believe in the truth of their faith to the exclusion of all others.
According to the beliefs of most monotheistic religions, it should be a
simple task to determine which religion is the "true" one: one simply has to ask
for God's assessment during prayer. However, a small
pilot study that we have conducted appears to indicate that assessing God's
will may not be possible.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
David B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia : A
Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford
University Press, (2001). Read
reviews or order this book