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Religions' role in reducing
religiously inspired conflicts

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We received a particularly interesting Email on 2002-MAY-28 -- one of about a hundred on that day. A visitor to our site suggested that the world's religiously-motivated civil conflicts, mass murders and genocides are caused by certain "dark religions" that promote hatred. The implication is that peace will come if we search out, carefully watch, and perhaps restrict the activities of these evil groups.

We disagree. We feel that the most effective way to reduce inter-religious and intra-religious disputes is for the major religions of the world to give greater priority to the teaching of universal human rights. We feel that leaders of the main religions -- Christianity and Islam -- are contributing to regional conflicts. If they were to emphasize human rights more than they currently do, they could make a major impact towards world peace.

The following is our group's thoughts on conflict reduction. Unlike almost all of the other essays on this web site, this one does not present all points of view. It advocates one point of view -- ours.

Which religions are causing most of the conflict?

There is a growing awareness that religions play a major role in the world, promoting both enormous good and profound evil.

Major religiously-motivated conflicts have recently occurred in: Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Middle East, Iraq/Iran, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, etc. It is worth noting that that the main religious involved are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The strife is not caused by small, obscure, hate-motivated, evil religions. It is seen in countries where the vast majority of the population follow one of these major world religions:

bullet Christians constitute about 33% of the world's population. This number has remained constant for decades, and seems to be slipping slowly in recent years.
bullet Muslims currently total 20% of the world's population. This number is growing rapidly.

It is reasonable to expect that Christians and Muslims would be responsible for most of the world's religiously motivated violence. After all, most people in the world follow one of these two religions.

The problem, then, is some serious defect in the world's main religions.

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Sources of the conflicts:

We believe think that a main source of inter-religious and intra-religious conflict it is the way in which religions teach their Ethic of Reciprocity. This is the code of behavior taught by almost all faiths. It states that we must treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. In Christianity, this is caused the Golden Rule. Some examples from the world's largest religions are:

bullet Buddhism: "A state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?" Samyutta NIkaya v. 353
bullet Christianity: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Matthew 7:12 
bullet Hinduism"This is the sum of duty: do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you." Mahabharata 5:1517
bullet Islam: "Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself" Fourth Hadith of an-Nawawi 13
bullet Judaism: "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.", Leviticus 19:18

Almost all religions teach that one's primary responsibility is towards their one or more deities. Of lesser importance is how one reacts to fellow believers as described in their Ethic of Reciprocity. Even less stress is given to treating persons from other faith groups, traditions, or denominations in the same religion. Finally, the treatment of people of other religions is often virtually ignored. We feel that the universal application of the Ethic of Reciprocity should be taught. In Christianity, Jesus' parable about the Good Samaritan is a good place to start.

A second source of inter and intra-religious conflict is the binary thinking found in so many faith groups. Too often, groups teach the principle of extreme particularism -- the belief that one's own faith group possesses all of the truth, as revealed to them directly by God. Other faith groups in the same religion and other religions worship demons and are led by Satan. The end result is fear of and contempt towards other faith groups and religions. In extreme cases, this can escalate to include genocide.

Two alternative teachings are:

bullet Inclusivism: One's own group possesses the whole truth; other religious groups contain parts of the truth.
bullet Pluralism: All group's beliefs and practices are equally valid, when interpreted within their own culture.

These concepts lead to greater inter- and intra-religious peace.

Why is the Ethic not applied to non-believers?

There are certain factors present in Christianity, Islam and many other religions that exacerbate the tendency to restrict the Ethic to fellow believers rather that apply it also to followers of other religions. Some are:

bullet Each religion teaches a different concept of deity. It may be seen to be a single, undivided unity; a dual divinity; a trinity; a pantheon of deities; etc. Even monotheistic religions -- faiths that teach the existence of a single deity --  describe their God differently; in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, for example, God has different attributes, names, history, requirements, expectations, etc.

Many believers in one religion will treat believers in other religions as following false Gods. Other religions will be seen as preaching blasphemy against the one "true deity." Unless faith groups take pro-active measures, the natural tendency is for some believers to discount the rights of blaspheming non-believers, and to treat them as sub-human.
bullet Many religions teach that a Hell exists where non-believers go after death. Some people interpret the existence of Hell as implying that God has such little regard for non-believers, and hates them so much, that he is going to torture them for all eternity, without any hope of mercy or cessation of the pain. Thus, if a believer oppresses or even kills non-believers, he or she may view themselves as simply doing God's work on earth.

One result is that a small percentage of Christians who are violent, radical, and fundamentalist treat Muslims as sub-human. They have even promoted wars of mass murder and genocide against them, as in the recent cases of Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo. Also, a small minority of Muslims who are violent, radical, and fundamentalist treat Christians as sub-human. They have promoted wars of mass murder and genocide against Christians, as in the case of the Sudan, East Timor, and the World Trade Center. Similarly, we have Jewish-Muslim, Muslim-Jewish, Hindu-Muslim, and many other combinations of inter-faith conflict throughout the world. We also have intra-faith conflict such as is caused by Roman Catholic - Protestant hatred among Christians in Northern Ireland, and Sunni- Shi'ite hatred among Muslims in Pakistan, Iraq, etc.

The solution:

We are reluctant to propose a solution to eliminate religiously-motivated conflict. Groups with infinitely greater knowledge and intelligence have been working on this problem for decades. However, lack of knowledge and intelligence never stopped us in the past. ;-)

Our basic hypothesis is that:

bullet Organized religions, more than any other human institution, can influence public behavior and moral codes -- either for good or bad.
bullet Many organized religions lack a proper balance among their teachings of the believer's responsibilities towards:
bullet deity/deities,
bullet fellow believers,
bullet follower of other religions, and
bullet the environment.
bullet This imbalance is contributing to religiously-motivated violence around the world.
bullet By achieving a different balance -- one that would give greater importance towards the human rights of non-believers, intra-religious and inter-religious conflict would be reduced. More information.

We recommend the following actions:

bullet Religious and political leaders should emphasize that their Ethic of Reciprocity applies to persons of all religions, not just for fellow believers.
bullet In particular, they need to stress the importance of:
bullet Treating followers of other religions with the respect due to all fellow humans.
bullet Valuing, advocating and working towards religious freedom and other human rights for all -- fellow believers and non-believers alike.
bullet Religious leaders and laity need to speak out forcefully, when they see others oppress people's religious freedom. It should not matter whether the victims are from their own faith group, their own religion, another religion, or from a secular group.
bullet Religious leaders should soft-peddle the hatred by their God towards non-believers as it appears in their religious texts. This is generally translated as the "wrath of God" in the Bible, and is perhaps seen most frequently in the Book of Revelation.
bullet Religious leaders need to expose and reject immoral teachings of their holy texts. For example, the Bible contains numerous passages concerning the transfer of sin, guilt, and punishment from guilty persons to innocent persons.
bullet Religious leaders and laity need to engage in more inter-faith and ecumenical activities with non-believers and secularists.

Until the religions of the world realize that they are a main cause of hatred, strife, crimes against humanity and genocide, the slaughters will continue unabated. Since predominately Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu countries all have nuclear weapons, the need for religious tolerance is urgent.


Abstract words are fine. But concrete examples might be more useful. Almost all of our visitors come from the U.S., so we will select six American examples. The first three indicate how followers of one religion supported followers of another when they were being persecuted. The second three describe incidences where religious and political leaders remained silent when they could have spoken out in favor of tolerance.

bullet Positive examples:
bullet Public school incident: An ongoing problem in public schools is the presence of youth gangs. Some school administrations have been banning the wearing of gang symbols. Sometimes, they have also banned jewelry containing religious symbols. One school principal in Biloxi, MS told a Jewish student that he could not wear a Star of David. Pat Robertson - a well known fundamentalist Christian pastor -- defended the Jewish student, saying: "Referring to the Star of David as a gang symbol is either ignorance or religious intolerance. The decision ... to suppress a heartfelt and legitimate public expression of faith is totally inappropriate." The student was permitted to wear his necklace.
bullet Anti-semitic incident: An anti-semitic criminals in the predominately Christian town of Billings, MT smashed the window of a Jewish home and broke a menorah that the owners used to celebrate their wintertime Festival of Lights. Throughout the town, Christians and others started to display the image of a menorah in their own living room windows, to show their rejection of religious bigotry, and their solidarity with the oppressed religious minority. Positive good came out of a hate crime. More details.
bullet Anti-Muslim incident: The pastor of a church in Nashville, TN delivered the first of a four-part sermon series on the "evils of Islam." It was later broadcast on TV. Another local Presbyterian Church posted a notice on their church sign, saying: "Islam is not a threat: Prejudice is." The spokesperson for a local 100 member pastors' group said: ''Our concern is also that this will give people who are already angry and prejudiced against the Muslim community license for violence.'' An attempt to spread discord and disinformation backfired.
bullet Missed opportunities:
bullet Genocide advocacy: A group of Wiccans and followers of other Neopagan religions in the military obtained permission to hold religious services on their army base in Texas. A local Christian minister delivered an inflammatory sermon, advocating that the U.S. Army round up the Wiccans and execute them with napalm. To our knowledge, no non-Pagan religious leader criticized his statement.

Congressional resolution: "A resolution supporting religious tolerance toward Muslims" was introduced into the House and Senate. In 1999-DEC, when it was referred to committee, chairperson Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and committee members gutted and shelved the House resolution. According to one investigator, some Christian and Jewish groups lobbied for the resolution to be rewritten or withdrawn. To our knowledge, no Christian, Jewish, or secular group actively supported the resolution.


Statement by presidential nominee: Back in 1987, when George H.W. Bush was presidential nominee he said: "No, I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." To our knowledge, no non-Atheist criticized this statement.

Copyright 2002 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-MAY-28
Latest update: 2010-JAN-05

Author: B.A. Robinson

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