Why do religious differences among people so often seem to lead to fear and hatred?
Spiritual strength, moral courage needed
Deborah J. Gerner and Philip A. Schrodt, professors of political science at Kansas University, are members of Oread Friends Meeting, 1146 Ore. Gerner and Schrodt, who are married, do research on international conflict and conflict resolution, focusing on the Middle East:
Religion deals with fundamental issues of human existence: questions of right and wrong, justice and compassion, family and community, death and immortality.
"Getting it right" is tremendously important to millions of people. Unfortunately, this admirable goal is often intertwined with the conviction that differing spiritual perspectives are flawed and must be suppressed to save "others" from evil and to protect "our" ability to worship as we desire. This fear is often the result of ignorance, apprehension and a lack of awareness that there are core ethical values shared by virtually every religious tradition.
At its founding in the mid-17th century, Quakers rejected the conflicting doctrines and creeds that had caused more than a century of bloodshed among the Christian communities of Europe, as well as a millennium of violence between Christians and other faiths. Instead, Quakers focused on the importance of the inner spiritual light, "that of God in every person."
The 18th century Quaker John Woolman wrote: "There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages has had different names. It is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any where the heart stands in perfect sincerity."
Recognizing that religious truth can take diverse forms is one thing; living by that principle is quite another. Giving in to prejudice and dehumanizing those with whom we disagree is easy; understanding others' beliefs, even those we don't share, requires spiritual strength and moral courage, as the examples of Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama and Mahatma Gandhi have shown.
It is difficult, an ongoing practice with which we struggle daily. But as we pursue this, we find inner peace, and as we find peace we can become peacemakers.
Send e-mail to Philip A. Schrodt at firstname.lastname@example.org or to Deborah J. Gerner
Different doctrines create fear, suspicion
Saibal Bhattacharya, a Lawrence resident, is a native of India and a student of Hindu philosophy:
Established religions are made up of three major parts ("Selections from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda," Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, India, 1986):
- philosophy: principles, goals and means to attain goals.
- mythology: legends describing lives of men or supernatural beings to provide abstractions of the philosophy.
- rituals: forms, ceremonies and physical behavior and attitudes.
Philosophic differences occur between religions because each religion has its own doctrines, and insists they are the only true ones, and may go as far as thinking that nonbelievers will be damned. Influenced by fanaticism, some will even draw the sword to compel others to believe in their religion. Such fanaticism is dangerous, because it arouses the worst wickedness in human nature.
Similarly, mythological differences abound between religions, with each emphasizing their stories are not myths. If a religious proponent claims his prophet did wonderful things, then another from a different religion will counter it by saying his prophet did more wonderful things, which happen to be historical "facts" rather than "mere" myths. Such stories are mostly mythological, containing, perhaps, an element of history.
Finally, differences also bedevil religions at the level of rituals. It is common to hold one's rituals as "holy" while relegating those of others as "simple errant superstitions." It is because of these differences that religions have viewed each other with fear and suspicion. Coupled with these has been the often cruel burden of history, whence a religion faced prosecution at the hands of the other(s), resulting in a hatred for the other religion(s).
Ironically, it has been the same cauldron of religion that has spawned not only the most diabolical hatred that humanity has known but also the most intense and noblest love over the course of human history.
Send e-mail to Saibal Bhattacharya at email@example.com.