Tue | Nov 13, 2018

Religion sowing seeds of intolerance

Published:Sunday | January 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Contributed Religious wars have ravished civilisations
Contributed World religions and philosophies
File Buddhist monks gather at Borobudur temple during a celebration of Vesak day, which marks the birth, enlightenment and demise of Buddha, in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia,

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

- Blaise Pascal

Oftentimes, Christian apologists shift the focus from the mass atrocities committed in the name of God, pointing to the tens of millions of victims at the hands of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism.

And while the world has seen the worst of political dictatorships, religious wars have continued to decimate entire generations, in every clime, in every era, with no end in sight.

The ongoing clashes between a Western-led coalition against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), and the retaliatory attacks by extremists, as recently played out in the streets of Paris, are just the latest in a series of violence fuelled by religion.

Indeed, history tells a disturbing tale. One credible blog produced these alarming statistics: "809 million people have died in religious wars. It is true that Stalin, among others, slaughtered his own people by the millions during the industrialisation of Soviet Russia. By comparison, 209 million have died in the name of Communism. Some 62 million died during World War II, civilian and military, on all sides. Conclusively, more people have died in the name of religion than in the name of Communism or Hitler, or the two combined times two." (Source: http://www.bookrateblog.com/2006/07/22/deaths-over-history-religious-vs-....)

Why? Why the slaughter in defence of a belief that touts love? The answer is found in the sacredness that is given to one's religious identity. Salvation is tied to religious identity. This is what makes religious wars so unforgiving.

Further, religious identity is sometimes intertwined with culture and ethnicity, opening the door to 'tribalism,' separatism, and, under the right circumstances, incitement along religio-cultural lines.

Arguably, the term religion, which comes from the term 'religio,' or connection to God, began as a natural, personal quest to transcend earthly challenges while attaining solace and peace. It had little or nothing to do with hierarchical structures, institutions, dogmas and pronouncements of 'Truth'. That morals and ethics can be cultivated without religious structures is more than likely.

Sadly, the creators of institutionalised religions have skewed the cross-cultural philosophy of selflessness and love, creating exclusive systems, driven by control, pitting one against each other, using oral tradition (always open to question) along with the name of God to justify their actions.

The creators of just about every religion have ensured that we have

inherited this perversion. The multiple schisms within a single faith warrant deep reflection. Genuine spiritual leaders who have preached forgiveness and brotherly love, and around whom institutions were established, will recoil at what has emerged, in their name.

Religion has, in the most of subtle ways, promoted hubris and a kind of self-righteousness that leads to evangelising. It also sows the seeds of distrust and hatred while breeding sectarianism in its most virulent form.

Surely, the major religions of the world are based on exclusivist dogma. The Old Testament and the Talmud peddle a single group of people as 'God's Chosen'.

Paul's Christianity devalues Judaic lore and raises his doctrine as the sole means of salvation. Every Muslim is taught what their leader, Muhammad, is believed to have said: "No babe is born but upon Fitra (as a Muslim). It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Polytheist." (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6426.)

intra-religious discrimination

Hinduism's scriptures approve intra-religious discrimination based on caste and skin colour. Even Buddhist monks, purportedly the paragon of peace, instigated violence against Muslims in Myanmar last year, drawing this sharp response from the Dai Lama: "Killing people in the name of religion is unthinkable. I pray for them (the monks) to think of the face of Buddha."

And the mantle of exclusivity and truth was said to be given to Mormon's founder, Joseph Smith, by angel Moroni.

With every religious founder proclaiming 'Truth', we well understand how religion slowly erodes trust and harmony.

Interestingly, visions and other mediumistic displays characterise the genesis of all religions. Their founders, steeped in meditation and forms of self-abnegation, become the mouthpiece of angels. They are God's messengers, beckoning us with revelations. But these new pronouncements contradict those already given by other messengers, breeding turmoil and confusion.

Desperate to stem the tide of religious bigotry and violence, inter-religious organisations have sprung up, echoing the message of tolerance and understanding.

That there are several paths leading to the same God has been repeated, ad infinitum, but with marginal success. Centuries of forging disparate religious identities have created unshakeable barriers to lasting peace. According to International Religious Freedom Report 2013, many advocates of inter-religious dialogue have (themselves) been ostracised and even threatened with death by their communities in times of religious and ethnic rivalry.

Barring the psychological and sociological factors that help explain the phenomenon of religious violence, there is one novel explanation worth exploring. In his last book, Hungry Ghost, journalist Joe Fischer reproduced a provocative letter from a reader who asked us to revisit the true nature of every angel who shows up with new teachings, supposedly from God.

Similar sentiments were echoed by author Jose Aragon, who, in his controversial The Forbidden Religion, penned with fatalistic overtones: "The aim of all religions is to keep man asleep, leading him blindly to the final slaughterhouse."

n Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com of follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby