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The first step:

The first step is not so a radical change in religious teachings. Rather, it is a different emphasis within the present teachings. In my opinion, religions need to stress appropriate behavior towards persons of different faiths, and to those who are not affiliated with a religious tradition.

Religions need to teach that:

bulletFollowers of all religions, and of none, are fellow humans of equal worth.
bulletThe value of the life of a fellow believer is equal to the value of every non-believer.
bulletAll people should enjoy fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion. 
bulletOne's responsibility towards one's neighbor is of great importance, rivaling one's responsibility towards deity/deities.
bulletOne's "neighbor" includes fellow believers, followers of other religions, and followers of no religion.
bulletPeople should be equally active fighting oppression and discrimination, without regard for the person's color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, degree of ability, etc.

Almost all religions already have an Ethic of Reciprocity. This is a statement that one should treat others as they would like to be treated; one should not harm others. Consider Christianity as one example:

bulletIt's Ethic of Reciprocity is called the Golden Rule.
bulletOne expression appears in Matthew 7:12: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
bulletIf this rule were rigorously applied, then there would be little or no religiously-inspired violence.
bulletIn Luke 10:33-37, Jesus is recorded as delivering the parable of the Good Samaritan. In essence, it teaches that every other human being on earth is one's neighbor and has intrinsic worth -- whether or not that other person is of the same nationality, race, gender religion, etc.

Our opinion is that all religious groups need to give greater emphasis to their Ethic of Reciprocity, and emphasize that it applies to everyone in the world: both to fellow believers and to persons of other religions. They need to teach that is is quite possible to not accept the accuracy of another person's faith, while promoting the right of that person to follow a different religion.

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Actions that religious leaders might take:

Some positive actions that religious leaders and followers can take to reduce religiously-based hatred include:

bulletOrganize community inter-faith groups throughout their area of influence.
bulletPressure governments to eliminate religious discrimination in employment, accommodation, etc.
bulletAcknowledge that all religions, including their own, have performed evil deeds in the past.
bulletTeach that other religions have beliefs and practices that we can usefully learn from.
bulletPromote human rights generally, for persons of all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, etc.
bulletExpand the teaching of comparative religion so that all will have a basic understanding of other faith groups.
bulletRemove sexist, racist and homophobic beliefs and practices from their own teachings, their own practices, and their faith group's practices.

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A really big -- and probably impossible -- step:

Perhaps the most effective way to minimize intra-religious and inter-religious violence would be for religious leaders to introduce the concept of doubt into their teachings, by explaining to their followers that:

bulletAll religions -- including their own -- are not based on revelation; they are imperfect human attempts to reach out to and to understand the Ultimate or God as they conceive him, her, it or them to be.
bulletAfter reviewing the diversity of religious beliefs in the world, it appears obvious that the probability of their own religious tradition being "true" is very slim.
bulletThere appears to be no way to assess the will of God or the Ultimate.
bulletThat by murdering or oppressing someone who follows a different religion -- or no religion -- you are not doing God's will on earth. You are murdering a person made in the image of God.

Needless to say, at least the first three three beliefs are blatant heresy in most religious traditions. Still, if religious leaders found a way in which these beliefs could be effectively taught, much of the religiously motivated violence and needless deaths occurring daily would quickly diminish. My personal hunch is that God is shocked at the present loss of human potential due to religiously-motivated oppression and violence. He would be pleased.

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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 B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book

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Copyright 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-MAR-01
Latest update: 2006-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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