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Religious Tolerance logo

Root causes of religiously-motivated conflict,
oppression, unjustified discrimination, etc.

Part 2:
Possible causes, aggravating factors, & examples

This topic is continued from Part 1

Possible root clauses of religiously-based conflict, hatred, violence, oppression, discrimination, etc: (Continued):

bullet Responsibility across generations: This is a variation of collective responsibility where an entire group -- a race, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc. -- is considered responsible for the actions of one person. Here, an entire group is held responsible for an event that happened generations, centuries or even millennia ago. For example: until the mid-20th century, some Christian denominations taught that every modern-day Jew bears responsibility for the execution of Jesus by the occupying Roman Army in the 1st century CE back almost two millennia ago. This belief was responsible for horrendous persecution of Jews by Christians and laid the foundation for the Nazi Holocaust.
bullet Passages in their holy text: Many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, Christian Scriptures and Qur'an call for active discrimination against members of other religions. Some parts of the Bible describe the murder, mass murder and genocide of religious minorities. A believer who merely follows their holy book can find lots of justification to engage in religious discrimination today. Fortunately, these holy books also have some passages calling for religious tolerance. It all depends on which passages are given the most attention.

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Aggravating factors: 

bullet Many people are motivated to adopt a religious faith out of a need for security in a dangerous world. Their faith can be brittle; they may fear that their entire belief system may collapse like a house of cards if a single belief is shown to be untrue. When their religion is challenged, they may react very emotionally.
bullet Religious beliefs are largely based on faith rather than reason. This means that conflicts among religions cannot be easily settled through dialogue. Disagreements can often escalate.
bullet Many feel that they are God's only representatives on Earth; in effect, they are God's arms and legs. They feel a moral obligation to be God's defenders and to act in the place of God against unbelievers.

Examples of conflict related to religious belief:

  • Inter-religious conflict ranging from prejudice to mass murder:
    • The most obvious examples are by violent, radical, religious fundamentalists with little regard for human life. They include various attacks by Muslim terrorists on the World Trade Center in New York City, government buildings in Washington DC, the Pentagon, a subway in London, a train in Spain, etc. All of the terrorists were totally convinced -- without even the suggestion of doubt -- that they were acting on behalf of God.

    • Municipalities in the U.S. and a few counties have voted to turn down a building permits for a mosque or Muslim cemetery, even while allowing construction of churches.

    • Most Americans do not consider race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or a history of multiple marriages to be much of an impediment for a presidential candidate. But most people would not vote for an otherwise well-qualified Atheist. Many national surveys over past decades have shown that peoplle are least likely to vote for an otherwise qualified Atheist for president. They moved to the second most distrusted group in the fall of 2011, when members of the Tea Party movement took over the least trusted spot.

    • During 1999, a pastor of an Independent Batptist Church in Texas advocated that all Wiccans be rounded up by the Army and napalmed to death.

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  • Conflicts between persons of various religions and minorities:
    • Race: Prior to the mid-20th century there was a strong desire to keep Blacks and Whites separate. This led to conflicts in the mid-20th century over school racial intergration, during the 1960's over interracial marriage, and continuing to the present time. In the past, a commonly heard argument was that God created the different races of humans and placed them in different regions of the Earth. Further, he intended that they not be allowed to mix.

    • Left-handedness: In the past, there has been much discrimination against left handed people -- presumably simply because they form a minority in society. Left handed children were often forced to write with their right hands by school teachers. There was a widely-held belief that such treatment often led to the child suffering from stutterning or stammering as a direct result of this treatment. By 1950 studies indicated that the linkage between forcing left-handed children to write with their right hand and stuttering was weak or non-existent. Prejudice against left handed people is now quite rare. 3 However, in 2015, an Oklahoma pre-K teacher attempted to force a left-handed student to write with his right hand. When the child's mother complained, the teacher sent the child home with an article calling left-handedness as "unlucky," "evil" and "sinister," and noted "the devil is often portrayed as left-handed." 4 The mother plans to file a formal complaint with the Oklahoma Board of Investigation.

    • Homosexuality: Until recent years, most Christian faith groups interpreted a half dozen verses in the Bible as condemning same-gender sexual behavior as am "abomination" and hated by God. During the Colonial era in the U.S., such activity was often punished with the death penalty. Such prejudice faded later when:
      • Homosexual and bisexual sexual orientations were formally recognized my mental health professionals in the late 19th century, and

      • Human sexuality researchers determined that homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality were three unchosem, normal, natural, and fixed orientations.

    A landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in mid-2015. This is expected to cause a major future reduction in animus against homosexuals and bisexuals. They remain heavily discriminated against in employment, accommodation, etc. and are largely without legal protection in most states.

    • Transgender persons and transsexuals: Perhaps the newest religiously-based prejudice is against the transgender community and transsexuals. Conservative Christian faith groups generally teach that men and women have very different roles in the Church, in the family and in society generally. For a person to be identified as male at birth and to identify later as female during adulthood is confusing to some Christians and threatening to others. The reverse is also true.

      Many Christians refer to transgender persons as "confused" and imply that they need counseling to correct their confusion. In the past, the success rate of counseling has been at or near zero. Meanwhile researchers have discovered structures in the brain that apparently "tell" the individual what gender they are. These structures are fixed and not influenced by hormones, counseling, or sex reassignment surgery. So, transgender persons who talk about having a female brain in a male body -- or vice-versa -- are speaking the literal truth. Meanwhile, religious conservatives generally identify transgender persons by their birth-identified gender. Religious liberals, secularists, and the transgender/transsexual community identify a transgender person by their current gender identity. We expect that as prejudice and animus against homosexuals and bisexuals decrease, prejidice and aminum agsint transgender persons will become more prominent.

    • The next target: It is not obious what minority will become the most-discriminated against in the future. We may have to wait for a decade or two. We suspect that it will be against one or more religious groups: Muslims, Wiccans, other Neo-pagan religions, Agnostics, Atheists, or others.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. David Barrett et al, "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  2. Definition of "Dualism," American Heritage Dictionaries, at:
  3. H. Kushner, "Retraining left-handers and the aetiology of stuttering: the rise and fall of an intriguing theory," Pub Med abstract, undated, at:
  4. Emily Saul, "Teacher forces 4-year-old to not write with ‘evil’ left hand," New York Post, 2015-SEP-22, at:

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