Religions' role in reducing
religiously inspired conflicts
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
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
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.
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.
then, is some serious defect in the world's main religions.
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
Buddhism: "A state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I
inflict that upon another?" Samyutta NIkaya v. 353
Christianity: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should
do to you, do ye even so to them." Matthew 7:12
Hinduism: "This is the sum of duty: do
naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you." Mahabharata 5:1517
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
Judaism: "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.",
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
Two alternative teachings are:
Inclusivism: One's own group possesses the whole truth; other
religious groups contain parts of the truth.
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
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
Many religions teach that a Hell exists
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.
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
wars of mass murder and genocide against Christians, as in the case of the Sudan,
East Timor, and
the World Trade Center.
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.
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:
Organized religions, more than any other human institution, can
influence public behavior and moral codes -- either for good or bad.
Many organized religions lack a proper balance among their teachings
of the believer's responsibilities towards:
This imbalance is contributing to religiously-motivated violence
around the world.
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:
Religious and political leaders should emphasize that their Ethic of Reciprocity applies to persons
of all religions,
just for fellow believers.
In particular, they need to stress the importance of:
Treating followers of other religions with the respect due to all
Valuing, advocating and working towards religious freedom and other human rights for all -- fellow
believers and non-believers alike.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.