There is an African Swahili proverb that says, two giant bulls cannot share one cattle shed. I believe it must be because they would tear each other to pieces. Religious groups around the world cannot peacefully co-exist with each other for the simple reason that they unbendingly believe that they are right, and everyone else is wrong.
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One would argue that since most, if not all world religions purport for the spiritual, physical and emotional well being of humankind, for the preservation of the environment, and harmony within oneself and surroundings, it would be plausible that the major world religions could work together to attain these. However, it is only hypothetically possible that the major world religions can co-exist peacefully. Taking a realistic approach, this is not feasible.
It would be beneficial to everyone if for a change religious groups stopped squabbling with each other and within their own organizations to present a united front to work together for such advantageous discourse as world peace.
Why is man so obsessed with religion?
Peter Retzinger (2003) succinctly summarizes religion as a concept that originated from the imagination of the human mind in an attempt to explain phenomena that they could not readily grasp. Religion, he says, calls for a ‘herd psychology’, where the adherents follow blindly and without question traditions and practices laid down by ancient forefathers, and whose meanings have grown obsolete but cannot be discarded because of irrelevant superstitions. Religion, he says, calls for blind, unquestioning obedience.
Though we are living in a very civilized world, not much has changed in the arena of religion. There are the same rights and practices carried on as they were two millennia and more ago. There are more and more diverse religious groups as individuals arise to express their understanding of the enigmatic controller of the universe, the mystery of life and spiritualism (Smith, 1983).
According to data compiled by the Adherents Website, by the year 2005, there were six major world religions. The biggest proportion of these were the Christians who made up 33%, with Muslims making up for 21% of the world population, Hinduism 14%, primal and indigenous religions took up 6% and the remaining 12% was shared equally between the Chinese traditionalists and Buddhists. Only 16% of the world population considered itself nonreligious (Adherents.com 2008).
There are numerous cults and religious sects, most of who break away from the major religious groups, mainly because of disagreement in the interpretation of doctrine, to establish themselves as independent religious organizations. Even within the major religions, there are splinter groups. Taking Christianity as an example, the Adherents Website gives the sub divisions as being eight and these subdivisions are further subdivided (Adherents.com 2008).
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Why peaceful co-existence between religions is almost impossibility
The history of religion is one that is blood stained. It is ironical that though most religious groups call for peace, repeatedly in the course of history, these same groups have opted to shed blood when enforcing their beliefs upon others.
Often times, war has been conducted in the name of God. Christian soldiers fighting in His name during the dark ages were referred to as ‘Milites Christi’, who slew thousands with fanatical zeal because they believed that they were under divine protection and guidance. These soldiers received a lot of support from both the church and the state though the latter had ulterior political motives of conquering the ‘pagans’ and ‘heathens’. Christianity was just a vehicle to achieving this end. The cross, which is the symbol of Christianity was often used on the crest of shields and other weaponry when soldiers went to war.
The bloodiest of the Christian wars in history are the Crusades from the eleventh through to the thirteenth centuries. They were in reaction to the Muslim Conquests and were endorsed by the Papacy. Though the Crusades were begun with the aim of getting back Jerusalem and the Holy Land-Israel from the Muslims, these objectives soon expanded to incorporate other religious or political reasons as well (Vikler, 1996).
Islam sanctifies war if it is fought in the name of Allah. Islamic religious war is known as Jihad, a term that translates to mean striving in the name of God. There is unanimous consensus in the Muslim world that resorting to warfare to perpetrate or defend the Islamic religion is pardonable, even encouraged (Adherents.com, 2008).
In recent years, terrorists bombers have caused fear and mayhem in the lives of many as they commit atrocities in the name of jihad and fighting the ‘infidels’, the West, who are their enemy. It does not matter to them that the West cannot be lumped into one large religious sack. In the name of jihad these terrorists carry out political ambush that most times has no religious connotations at all.
Doctrines, practices, rituals, customs and traditions define any religion. These features set it apart from the others. The major religions of the world tend to be fixated with their own set of beliefs and dogma. Religious groups view others as adversaries who are lost and need to be shown the true path. This firm belief that there is only one truth, which varies according to whatever religion an adherent believes, colors the world into either black or white. Such an attitude hinders inter-religion co-operation (Vikler, 1996).
If within the religious groups, there are disagreements brought about by the understanding and interpretations of doctrine, by individuals who claim t believe in the same god, how much wider can the gap be between different religions? The major difference between Christianity and Judaism is the debate on whether the messiah came or is still being waited upon. This single variation in doctrine was enough to generate a completely new religious group. The world’s religions are too diverse to come together in any way (Vikler, 1996).
Members from within any religious group, are taught to look upon the rest of the world as a lesser, ignorant lot who need to be redeemed and brought to the light. If not, then they are regarded with suspicion, distrust or pity. There is a great amount of religious intolerance. In countries where there is a majority religious group, persecutions of the minority is not a rare occurrence (Vikler, 1996).
It is sound to promote religious freedom and tolerance which gives room for a person to practice without fear the religion of tier choice. Constitutions in practically all the nations of the world with a few exceptions have captions that protect a person’s right to worship (Smith, 1983).
Religious freedom as Aristotle declared, constitutes has room for religious pluralism, where the society allows for multiple sets of belief as well as forms of expression (Smith, 1983).
Religious pluralism, which is dismissed by most of the world’s monotheistic religions as polytheism, is the concept of there being more that one ultimate truth, of the pathway to finding God. This could actually be the answer to quelling the dissent between warring religious groups. However it cannot work because these groups are strongly monotheistic and intolerant of the idea of having more than one God (Smith, 1983).
The world is rapidly continuing to shrink as technology constantly brings people closer together. We are continuously buffeted with new and varied cultures, people’s attitudes and religions that might not be comprehensive or, in our opinion unacceptable. However, since the world is not ours alone, we must learn to live with these people in the greatest state of harmony that we can afford because it is not only us who have to put up with them; they also have to put up with us.
It is irrefutable that religion, under whatever guise it may adopt, is a pillar in societies the world over. Religion gives a guideline for a positive code of ethics. It preaches love and consideration for others. Ritzger aptly summarizes by saying:
“I believe that love, kindness, compassion, tolerance, and peace can be implanted in the psyche of man only when fear, paranormal illusion and ignorance are removed. We can then shift our attention more to matters of peace, rather than to matters of war.”
Our religious beliefs are fundamental to us and they are indispensible. However, the well-being of other human beings is even more important. Thus, even if religious groups cannot come to agree, we should strive to accommodate and respect what others believe in.
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- Adherents Website, Major World Religions, 2008. Web.
- Retzinger P, To Abandon Reason, to Fear Freedom & the Human Condition, 2003. Web.
- Smith S, Ways of Wisdom: Readings on the Good Life, University Press of America, 1983, MD
- Virkler A H, Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Bible interpretation, Bake Pub Group, 1996