Root causes of religiously-motivated conflict,
oppression, unjustified discrimination, etc.
aggravating factors, & examples
Possible root clauses of religiously-based conflict, hatred, violence,
oppression, discrimination, etc:
In the following essay, we give many Christian examples. This is not because Christian countries have more conflicts than other countries. It is because the U.S., Canada and England are where most of our web-site visitors live.
Some root causes:
Incomplete teaching on reciprocity: All of the major religions
of the world teach an Ethic of Reciprocity. This is
often referred to as the Golden Rule in Christianity, Judaism, and other religions.
Although these religions use slightly different wording, they all teach that we should
treat others as we would wish to be treated ourselves. Jesus talked about the
Good Samaritan who helped a victim who was not of his religion. See Luke
10:25-37. In fact, most Jews at the time hated and denigrated Samaritans. In
the passage Jesus defined one's neighbor to include the entire human race.
Unfortunately, most faith groups seem to
have done a poor job conveying the range of the Ethic to their
membership. In practice, congregations often interpret the Golden Rule as
applying only to fellow believers. It is often seen as not extending to
followers of other faith groups within the same religion, to followers of other religions, and to secularists such as Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, Ethical Culturalists, etc. What starts
off as considering "the other" of less importance than one's own group can
degenerate into active discrimination, intense demonizing, and even violence. More details.
Inferring that collective punishment is OK: A major theme running
throughout the Bible involves the transfer of sin and
punishment from the guilty to the innocent. Quite often, it is not a
single person but an entire group of individuals who had no involvement in the
original sin and who end up being punished or murdered. Examples are seen
throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). Three are:
Descendents of Adam and Eve are cursed with the sin of the original
humans even though the descendents were not yet born when Adam and Eve allegedly ate
the fruit. Thus the descendents, including us, are obviously not responsible for the transgression.
Every fetus, newborn, infant, and child in the world was said to have drowned during the great flood of Noah because of
the beliefs and religious practices of their parents and other adults.
All of the members of a soldier's family were killed in retaliation for a sin committed by the
Examples are also seen in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). Perhaps
the most obvious case was the transfer of immense levels of sin from every human onto Jesus, who
is frequently regarded by Christians as having led a sinless life.
The sin potentially came from everyone who were alive at the time of Jesus, and
who were alive before
his era, and who lived since his time.
Although transfer of sin from the guilty to the innocent is considered
profoundly immoral by most ethical systems, it is fully integrated into Christian beliefs.
One result is a commonly held belief that if a person commits a crime, it is
OK to retaliate against an entire community who share some factor with the
perpetrator. The common factor might be religion, skin
color, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. One of the most
remarkable example of this concept of collective
punishment occurred when President G.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in
retaliation for the 9/11 terrorists who were mostly from Saudi Arabia. The
common factor that linked the terrorists and the Iraqis was the religion of
Islam. Another example was a Sikh who was murdered in the U.S. after 9/11 because his head
covering was mistaken to be Muslim. A Hindu temple was attacked in Toronto
shortly after 9/11 apparently because it was mistaken for a Islamic mosque.
Attitude of exclusivity: Most religions teach that they alone are
the sole true religion and that they uniquely possess the only true knowledge
of god. This implies that followers of other religions are in error, and are
worshiping a false god. Some faith groups even teach that followers of other
religions worship Satan or demons. Back in the
1980s and 1990s, when many Christian groups accused Wiccans and other Neopagans of being Satanists
and responsible for widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) of children, there were instances of shooting, physical assault, an
attempted mob attack, advocacy of genocide etc. and a lynching by some Christian groups
against Neopagans. These threats have largely dissipated as accurate knowledge
about Neopaganism has spread and as more people realize that SRA never
happened. More details.
Lack of accurate knowledge: Many public schools do not teach even
the rudiments of world religions, perhaps because of a misunderstanding
of the principle of separation of church and state,
or out of fear for negative reactions by parents. Faith groups generally do
not include meaningful studies of other religions in their youth education
classes, perhaps out of the fear of legitimizing other religions or out of concern
that their children might discover another religion to be more attractive. Many
religious information sources on the Internet and elsewhere teach a heavily
distorted view about other religions, and about the teaching of heresies by "cults."
Fear: People often fear groups that they do not understand. Fear of "the other" can easily lead to
discrimination, rejection, denigration, hatred, etc.
Lack of doubt: The World Christian Encyclopedia has identified 270 large religious groups, and many more smaller ones in the
world. 1 These religions teach an amazing variety of conflicting beliefs concerning deity, humanity,
morality, and the rest of the universe. If we assume that absolute truth exists in theological matters,
then the chances of any one faith group having the whole "truth" is a
fraction of 1%. Yet, for
many people, religion is an accident of birth. A person born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be a Muslim in
adulthood; a person born in Alabama will most probably be a fundamentalist
or other evangelical Christian, and so on. In spite of these facts, many,
perhaps most, people hold tenaciously to their unique religious beliefs, having zero
doubt that they are absolutely true. A little doubt would go a long way towards alleviating religious intolerance in the world.
Nobody is going to fly an airplane into a building in a suicide attack if they harbor the slightest
doubt about God or Heaven/Paradise.
Top-down vs. bottom-up religions: Among monotheistic
religions there are thought to be two kinds of religions. We call them "top-down," and "bottom-up:"
Top-down religions are based on revelations by a god to humanity,
often through prophets. Typically, the revelation contains a creation story in
which their god creates humans.
Bottom-up religions involve humans struggling to understand
the nature and expectations of their god. Their god(s)
and/or goddess(es) are created by humans.
Many, perhaps most, people regard their own religion as the only top-down faith in existence. Being revealed by God, it must be true.
The holy book either is god's word or contains god's word. All of the other religions in the world are seen as bottom-up faiths, and
are thus severely limited by cultural factors, lack of knowledge of the
social and natural sciences, tribal beliefs, etc. Given that their own religion is the only
one revealed by God and that they know the fullness of truth, some find it difficult to tolerate other religions who
only have part of the truth. More info.
The existence of Hell: Most monotheistic religions
have historically taught that God will judge people after death and send
them either to Heaven or Hell. Many, perhaps
most, people believe that they and most of their fellow believers will end up in
Heaven, while most or all followers of other religions will go to Hell.
Similarly, many fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians believe that in the near future, during the Rapture, Christians who had been saved will rise through the air to meet Jesus
Christ in the sky. The unsaved will remain on earth to experience a mass
slaughter -- the largest genocide the world will have ever seen -- during
the Tribulation and War of Armageddon. God is seen primarily as a wrathful deity
who has such a low opinion of followers of other religions that he will organize
a massive genocide on Earth, and later have their followers tortured for all eternity without
hope of mercy or relief in Hell.
If God hates followers of other religions so intensely,
then it may well be difficult for true believers to avoid denigrating and oppressing them.
Dualistic thinking: In religion, dualism is the "concept that the world is ruled by the antagonistic forces of
good and evil." 2 Many individuals have "us" vs. them" beliefs. They regard their own
religion (or race, or sex, or nationality, or skin color, etc.) as the "good
side" and others as representing the "evil side." Much
of this thinking is based on a lack of knowledge of other religions, races,
Linking religion and nationalism: Many people have
their religion and their nationality. We see this in the
quotation by George H.W. Bush above where he denied
citizenship and patriot status to those who do not believe in the existence
of his God. We saw it also in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s when
the Serbs fused their Serbian Orthodox Christian faith with their Serbian
nationality. The result was the genocide of Muslims and others involving the deaths of about 200,000 victims.