My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Why is religion seen as an evil force? Ignorance?

“It is true of every so-called holy text in every religion today that no one has the slightest idea of who wrote them or even when they were written.” Really?

This is from the pen of Darrell Williams, writing on Religious Wars and the Fallacies of Fundamentalism, September 2007, in American Chronicle I found this browsing the web and it is fairly typical of the biased or ignorant reporting that abounds where religion is concerned.
Sir you are wrong, as any theologian or student of religions will tell you!
And here are some more:
A C Grayling in What is Good scorns the religious who he says do good only out of self interest for eternal bliss. Really?
It is reported that in an interview with Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, Sam Harris, the popular non-fiction writer and professed atheist, discussed his new book “The Moral Landscape: How Science can Determine Human Values.” During this interview Harris explains that the motivating factor for writing this new book is what he describes as the problem of having only “religious demagogues who think the planet is 6,000-years-old” as the source of morality in today’s world.

There seem to be so many militant or angry atheists and humanists today who too often seem to write from an ignorance of matters of theology and religious studies and tar us all with the same brush when it comes to criticism of our beliefs, who tend to trash religion on dogmatic statements of the faith that are barely recognizable to present day believers. We most certainly don’t all believe that the world was created 6000 years ago, and nothing is further from my mind than eternal bliss when I am showing compassion and care to a fellow suffering human being! And so what if we did, or it was?

Why is religion often seen as an evil force, or just simply a “bad thing” when we could celebrate instead its diversity and virtues?

I believe one of the most important reasons behind any attack on religion is ignorance. Ignorance includes a lack of understanding, or a suspicion, of the “other” point of view. And this often fuels fear, and fear fuels general ridicule or worse. Thus Herod ordered the slaying of the Holy Innocents because of his fear that his power was being usurped by the birth of the boy Jesus ‘born to be King’.

The classical Greek Athenian philosopher Socrates is credited with inventing dialectic – rigorous discipline designed to expose false beliefs and elicit truth – in a setting of rational discussion that was not dogmatic but encouraged courtesy, and consideration for the other’s viewpoint. One of the best known sayings of Socrates is "I only know that I know nothing". Too often today, dialogue is aggressive and dogmatic, encouraged, it would seem, by the remote nature of the internet comment forum, where persons are not face to face, in eye contact, and therefore seem to feel they can rant as much as they like.

I belong to the Scientific and Medical Network (SMN), where there is a strong consensus amongst its members that alongside our scientific achievements we have lost sight of the sacred, the spiritual, and our purpose on the planet; that we are in a spiritual crisis as much as a political or ecological one, and that this needs urgently addressing. We are an organization that pushes the boundaries of understanding of all things spiritual, of consciousness, always with a scientific rigour. Amongst the stated aims of the Network, we are called to “encourage a respect for Earth and Community which emphasizes a holistic and spiritual approach,” but whilst we also stand for “critical and open minded discussion of ideas that go beyond reductionist science,” we are meant to be “sensitive to a plurality of viewpoints.” We therefore aim above all else for tolerance and understanding between our many and various ideas and viewpoints, “wacky” as some of them might seem to our colleagues. We stand for open dialogue to further understanding. And this is what is desperately needed in our world today, particularly where our religions and faiths are concerned.

The Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme is committed to offering a distinctive scholarly approach to furthering understanding across the religious traditions, with a focus on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I quote from its excellent website, with regard to media bias and ignorance:

“Mass media in the West and Middle East do not deliver the reporting we need on religious issues. There is a tendency to polarise debates and parties, to over-dramatise conflict and to under-research the complexities of lived religious traditions in the modern world. This can be seen in four high-profile cases in recent years: the Danish cartoons, Pope Benedict's Regensberg address, The Archbishop of Canterbury's Sharia lecture, and the issue of whether Muslim women in Europe should be permitted to wear headscarves.

In each of these cases, with polarisations between blasphemy and freedom of speech, secular enlightenment and religious prejudice, it was almost impossible for Westerners to discover the full range of Islamic (especially Arabic-speaking) views, with the result that there is a repeated widespread perception that Muslims are stuck in the Dark Ages. Likewise it was almost impossible for Arabic speakers to discover the full range of Western views, with the result that there is a repeated widespread perception that Europeans are irremediably decadent and morally corrupt.”

We have to overcome this ignorance and bias. How do we do this? I think that is enough for today - I shall explore this further in a later posting.

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