It is so terribly sad that flawed assumptions are allowed so often to tarnish the image of religion. This is one reason why I wrote Why Religions Work. "Why they don't work, more like," I hear quite a few people say, and they dismiss the book with a sneer. Just look at the world and all the wars- that's why they don't work, someone said recently.
One of the most common reasons given for not wanting anything to do with religion is that religions cause most of our wars. But do they?
Excuses abound for war and violence without any need for religion at all! The religions’ historian, Karen Armstrong, in her book The Case for God, shows us that wars are more about greed, envy and ambition, cloaked perhaps in religious rhetoric to give them ‘respectability’. And they can certainly be fueled by religious difference. But we are also attached to too many possessions, and Aidan Rankin in his book Many-Sided Wisdom: A
New Politics of the Spirit claims that it is this attachment, rather than religion per se, that is the cause of so many wars that are too often blamed exclusively on religion.
It is true that many conflicts are fought over geographical boundaries, hypothetical lines drawn on maps, although religious passions do run deep when that land or property is sacred.
For many people the religious Crusades come first to mind. Yes they were bloody, and the reasons behind them enormously complex; basically they were great military expeditions undertaken by the Christian nations of Europe for the purpose of rescuing the holy places of Palestine from the hands of the Mohammedans. But here again we are talking about the fight for possession of land and property.
In Gustav Niebuhr’s book Beyond Tolerance, he refers to a night in 1993 when there were 40 wars going on in the world, but on analysis most of them were fueled rather than caused by religion.
However, it is indisputable that we now live in a more perilous world than those of us who are children of the 1950s could possibly have foreseen. There are more wars worldwide than ever before. It is true that in the Western world many of us have experienced unbroken peace since the end of the Second World War. But we can no longer ignore the wider global picture. In those terms the future is bleaker, with so much war and civil unrest and dreadful violence obvious from our daily news, And we all see current atrocities on our TV screens where religious hatred is cited as a cause. But sadly and worryingly it is too often the case that politics is masquerading as religion, the faith differences being used for political purposes, and it is true that religious fundamentalism/extremism is often implicated. But a moment’s reflection tells us that hunger, injustice, inequalities and tyrant dictators also play a significant part in most unrest today. We witnessed in 2011 the most extraordinary events that have been collectively called the Arab Spring. Were not these uprisings more about injustice and inequality and tyrannical rule than about religion? It is quite likely that wars of the future will be similarly caused. Researchers have also found that environmental shifts are already contributing to war and strife and we can expect further displacement of refugees through climate change in the future that will threaten peace in the areas affected. The adverse effects of climate change could easily deliver the knockout punch if there are serious social inequalities which cause tensions waiting to be sparked into action.
The fact is that religions are social capital writ large, of vital significance to the vast majority of the world's population,
and they work tirelessly to address the causes of so many of these tensions.
So perhaps instead of endlessly debating the role of religion in past and indeed current wars we should concentrate on how the religious – and for that matter atheists and humanists – can peaceably coexist. This needs respect, based on understanding, which can only be achieved through education. Remember the common features of most if not all faiths: the Golden Rule of loving our neighbors as ourselves; the rules that call for universal love and that forbid killing; the common concern for Creation; the notion of hospitality.
I shall look at the the whole issue of religious fundamentalism and extremism in more detail in a later post.
Meanwhile see in this respect the report in the Independent , February 21st, and a related editorial from the Barnabas Fund, of the speech given by Baroness Warsi, the UK Coalition's Minister for Faith, during a recent trip to the Middle East.
See also this article re. wars and religion or this blog and also Jimmy Akin who has quite a few words to say about this issue.
And please read the book before dismissing religion with an ill informed sneer!
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