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A "VIR:" A Very Important Rant

Random religious thoughts & observations by the
webmaster. Stuff that you may never hear in
your church, mosque, synagogue, circle, etc.

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Personal note:

Back in early 1995, the webmaster of this web site was frustrated at the TV reports of mass murders in Bosnia Herzegovina among Serbian Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, and Muslims. He viewed the genocides as having been religiously motivated. However, newscasters consistently referred to the genocides as ethnic conflicts. This induced the webmaster to start this web site devoted to the promotion of religious tolerance and the reduction of religious intolerance.

The site went online during 1995-APR, during the infancy of the Internet. Since then, he has had the good fortune to convert his lifelong hobby/special interest in religion into much more than a full time job after retirement. In doing so, he has gathered information from the teachings of a wide expanse of faith groups, read reports of research findings from many fields of science, followed cultural and political trends, etc.

Normally, he tries to describe impartially and objectively the full diversity of beliefs by faith groups, secular groups, individual believers, secularists, etc. In this section he deviates from this policy by actually expressing some personal conclusions that he considers important.

We apologize in advance if anyone is offended by any of the following thoughts.

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Some thoughts in random order:

  • Blaming an entire religion for the actions of a few of its members:

    It is a distortion of reality when an entire religion is blamed for the actions of a small group of that religion's followers. For example:

    • We see Islam attacked for the actions of a small minority of terrorists. The 9/11 attack on New York City, and Washington DC are a prime example. Yet, as the Arab Spring of 2011 indicates, there are strong desires among Muslims to replace their countries' theocracies and dictatorships with democratic governments.

    • We see verbal attack against Christians in North America because of the existence in that religion of of some very vocal homophobes, misogynists, religists (religiously intolerant persons) transphobes (those intolerant of transgender persons) etc. Yet many Christians and Christian groups are strongly committed to reducing these forms of hatred and discrimination.

  • Interaction of culture and religion:

    It is important to recognize the effect that culture has on religion. Quite often, a religion will be blamed for the actions of some of its followers when the responsibility actually lies in the culture in which the religion is embedded
    . For example:

    • Islam is often criticized because of the frequency of female genital mutilation (FGM) in some predominately Muslim countries. However, there are many largely Muslim countries in which FGM is quite rare or non-existent. Also, in those countries where it is widely practiced, it is common among Christians, Muslims and Animists.

    • Islam is frequently criticized for the frequency of honor killings in which one member of a family -- often a girl or woman -- is viewed as having brought dishonor to the family. However, the Qur'an -- the holy book of Islam -- repeatedly condemns murder . Widney Brown of Human Rights Watch, said that the practice "... goes across cultures and across religions." Examples include crimes of passion in predominately Christian countries in Latin America and also the killing of women for lack of dowry in India -- a primarily Hindu country. The root cause is the lack of status of girls and women in various cultures. 1

  • The presence of fear in religions:

    Fear plays a major role in some religions. For example:

    • The Hebrew Scriptures are chock full of stories about the ancient Hebrews being punished by God because they had departed from the Mosaic Code. One example is the flood of Noah which would be the largest genocide in human history. Every fetus, newborn, infant, child, youth and adult was drowned except for Noah, his wife, their three sons and daughters in law -- a total of eight persons. The Babylonian captivity during the 6th century BCE is another example. Some people feel that God is preparing to punish America if it becomes too accepting of Agnostics, Atheists, Neopagans, secularists, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons, followers of other religions, etc.

    • Three passages in the Christian Scriptures discuss a specific type of sin that is often referred to as the unforgivable, eternal or unpardonable sin. The text seems to imply that if a person commits this sin, they will lose their salvation and/or be prevented from ever obtaining their salvation. Thus, they will be relegated to Hell for eternal torment after death. Unfortunately, the Bible is ambiguous about this sin. We have tracked down 33 interpretations of the precise nature of this sin -- all different. Some Christians feel extreme fear because they are concerned that they might have committed this sin, perhaps by accident.

  • Ambiguities in the Bible:

    In our essay that describes a group of books by InterVarsity Press and Zondervan, we write that the publishers:

    "... produce books which describe the full range of conservative Christian beliefs about important religious topics. In these books, a number of leading evangelical Christian writers and theologians explain their personal views on a specific topic, and critique each others beliefs as being false.

    It is worth noting that each of the authors is an intelligent, sincere, serious, devout, thoughtful theologian and is quite confident that their personal belief is the only one that is biblically based. Yet, the authors' conclusions conflict with each other.

    A comment by InterVarsity Press on its book "Women in Ministry" is typical of this type of book:

    "Even those who agree that Scripture must determine our answers do not agree on what it teaches. And too often differing sides have not been willing to listen to one another. Here in ove [sic] volume are the views of four deeply committed evangelicals that focus the discussion on the issues."

    This type of book illustrates very clearly some of the ambiguities that theologians have found in the Bible. Some Christians suggest that even skilled theologians cannot assess what various passages mean. Since the Bible appears to be quite ambiguous, some suggest that terms such as "inerrancy" or "authoritative" cannot really be applied to the Bible. That is, although there is reasonable agreement about what the Bible says concerning many basic beliefs, there is little consensus on what it means, even within just the evangelical wing of Christianity.

  • Which, if any, is the true religion?:

    One way of sorting the monotheistic religions of the world is to divide them into two types: one "top down" religion and many "bottom up" religions. The sole top down religion has been revealed to humans by God. The many bottom up religions were created by humans who tried to explain God, humans, and the rest of the universe to the best of their abilities. However, they were often limited because the authors generally lived in a pre-scientific era and often were restricted in outlook by their tribal culture.

    The problem is that almost everyone regards their own religion as the only top down religion, and thus the only true religion. They generally regard all of the others as bottom-up religions, which thus have no truth at all or only part of the truth.

    The chance of an individual person being correct in their beliefs is less than one in three.


  • Evolution of the term "religious freedom:"

Religious freedom used to mean an environment in which individuals and groups:

    • To hold different beliefs,
    • To engage in different religious practices,
    • To assemble together regularly,
    • To raise their children in the same faith,
    • To proselytize (within limits),
    • To receive the same rights,
    • etc.

without experiencing oppression or discrimination,

This type of religious freedom has largely been achieved throughout North America. Exceptions during the 20th century have been: Native Americans and Canadians have been prohibited by federal governments from performing some of their religious rituals; Jehovah's Witnesses were heavily persecuted in Quebec, Canada, during World War II; Agnostics, Atheists and other non-theists were once not allowed to claim conscientious objector status in the military; Wiccans had occasionally had their children seized by Child Protective Services because a child care worker mistakenly believed that they and other Neopagans engaged in child sacrifice. Such oppression generated by uninformed government employees has largely disappeared.

Recently, the definition of religious freedom itself seems to be shifting. It is becoming the freedom of religious groups to oppress, discriminate against, and denigrate other groups -- often women and sexual minorities. Sometimes this is referred to as "freedom of conscience." Examples are:

  • One or more hospitals affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church denying pregnant women access to an abortion even if needed to save her life.
  • Pharmacists refusing to fill a prescription because of their religious beliefs about the nature of the medication.
  • Clerks in drug stores refusing to sell condoms or other contraceptives to youths under the age of 18 because the clerk felt that only adults should be allowed to purchase them.
  • Parents who want to deny their children access to medical attention in favor of prayer.
  • Adults who, because of their religious beliefs, vote in a referendum to deny loving, committed couples access to same-sex marriage.
  • Churches that accept government funds for charitable programs and then discriminate against potential employees because of the latter's religion.
  • Religious denominations that invest tens of millions of dollars in advertising campaigns to influence referendums, as in the Prop 8 case in California.
  • Fundamentalist Mormon faith groups who claim -- on religious grounds -- the freedom to ignore laws that criminalize bigamy and polygamy. They form patriarchal polygynous families in which women, child brides, and male youths are frequently abused.

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We expect to add many more topics to this section

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Hillary Mayell, "Thousands of Women Killed for Family 'Honor'," National Geographic News, 2002-FE-2, at: http://www.unl.edu/ This is a PDF file.

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Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted on 2012-JAN-14
Latest update on: 2012-JUN-13
Compiled by B.A. Robinson

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