Saturday, November 13, 2010

Religious Intolerance

The Bigger Picture
Published on June 10th 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
I closed last week’s column by asking a question. How can we expect others that are intolerant of the actions or views of those they disagree with, to somehow become less so if we react in an angry or intolerant manner towards them?
In my opinion such behaviour only results in reinforcing their misguided beliefs that they are right and or that their views are morally superior to my own. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it has been my experience that the only effective response to intolerance is to act in a more tolerant manner towards those who are condemning your own views. Instead of answering their attacks with your own criticism, I think a much better approach is to ask them to please help you understand why they feel this way by explaining their reasoning. Mind you, using this type of response is not an admission that they are right or that we are wrong. It merely provides an opening for those critical of us to explain their reasons why.
I’m not suggesting that we should always do this, because in some instances we are dealing with people who either don’t want to discuss their reasons, or who have adopted positions that are so radically different there isn’t really any point in discussing them. When I am confronted with these kinds of circumstances, I simply say that I don’t agree and then I either try to change the subject or just walk away.
It is an unfortunate fact of life that within every organized religion, as well as all in most other areas of the wider society we live in, there is a minority of people who find it impossible to reconcile their own beliefs with those of others that are different than their own. Getting angry or arguing with them is a useless exercise that only serves to reinforce their twisted and narrow minded ideas about right and wrong. Such people deserve our pity rather than our scorn because in many instances, they are not wholly to blame for thinking this way.
For reasons that the majority of us find difficult to understand, some individuals, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds or family upbringing, are simply unable to process and sort through the complexities of all the different opinions and information life exposes us to. This makes them pre-disposed to adopt rigid ideas of right and wrong, which are easier for them to understand as well as to equate with the concepts of good and evil.
Many religious extremists have also been brainwashed or otherwise indoctrinated with these rigid and simplistic beliefs by other members of their respective communities who they have come to trust and rely on for spiritual guidance. As a consequence, other people, who may have slightly different religious beliefs, are viewed by their fragile psyches as an evil threat to their physical existence as well as their hopes for eventual spiritual redemption. It is therefore impossible for them to acknowledge that such abnormal religious beliefs might actually be acceptable in the eyes of the God they believe in. In turn, because of the imminent threat such deviant and evil ideas pose to their very existence, this serves as their justification for anti-social behaviour such as indiscriminate murders of those who don’t share their beliefs.
Every religious faith has its share of radical religious leaders and their minions who are slavishly devoted to their twisted spiritual views. Within the world’s largest religious persuasion, the Abrahamic faiths that I am most familiar with of Christianity, Judaism and Islam all have their own unique but equally extreme religious factions. But there are also many similarities and very few differences in what the so-called spiritual leaders of these hard-line religious factions preach to their followers.
These quasi-spiritual religious guides pluck isolated passages from the Christian Bible (i.e. ‘an eye for an eye’), the Jewish Torah (i.e. God hates those who hate the people of Israel) and the Islamic Qur’an (i.e. ‘Strike terror into God's enemies, and your enemies’) to justify violence towards other people whom they say are sinners, enemies or perpetrators of evil.
They promulgate a message of hate because their objective isn’t a spiritual one, but rather their own unholy desire for power over the thinking and actions of their fellow human beings. But in order to acquire this power, these religious hate mongers must first subvert the overall message that runs through all of these religious texts, one that extols the virtues of kindness, love, patience and tolerance towards others; be they believers or non-believers.
But the Abrahamic faiths also share many other religious views such as their belief in a single God and the fact that all three religions trace their religious beliefs to God’s prophet, Abraham. Furthermore, all three faiths consider Jerusalem to be one of God’s holy cities and share religious customs such as fasting, the necessity for rituals of penance for one’s sins, prayers as well as worship on a holy day of the week, (Sunday, Saturday or Friday) and at certain times of the year (Christmas, Passover and Ramadan).
However, discussion of the numerous similarities between the Abrahamic religions is avoided by religious extremists because doing so would make it either difficult or impossible to arouse the passions of hatred extremist pseudo-religious leaders need and use to control and direct their followers. By instead focusing on the relatively few differences that actually do exist between these religions, these power hungry religious leaders are thus able to prey on the human desire to feel superior to others who are different from them.
But what dismays me even more is the fact that other religious leaders within the Abrahamic faiths who do not share such blood thirsty desires for power over their flocks, are also noticeably reticent about emphasizing these religious similarities. So next week I will discuss why they don’t as well as the role different religious beliefs based on human interpretations have played in recent burqa and facebook controversies.

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