Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Roots of Religious Intolerance

The Bigger Picture
Published on June 17th 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau
Last week I noted that I was dismayed by the fact that many mainstream religious leaders within the Abrahamic faiths are also noticeably reticent about emphasizing these religions’ many similarities. So today I want to discuss why these religious leaders don’t emphasize these similarities and the role I think this plays in recent controversies about women wearing burqas and Muslim anger over a draw Mohammed day posting on facebook.
As regards the reason why I believe most mainstream Christian priests or ministers, Jewish rabbis and Muslim mullahs don’t emphasize the many similarities between the Abrahamic faiths, I think the answer is fear. They are all afraid that if they did so, the reason for their existence as leaders of the numerous separate religious institutions that comprise the Abrahamic faiths will slowly fade away.
All religious faiths are essentially man made institutions and systems of spiritual beliefs that were designed by humans to provide spiritual guidance and places of worship for other humans. They are all inspired by different human interpretations of what God wants or expects from humanity, but in and of themselves they are not heavenly creations.
So despite what the human founders and current human leaders of the worlds various different religions might wish us and their devoted followers to believe, I don’t think the few differences that distinguish our different religious faiths really matters that much in the grand scheme of things. In fact the reason why I do believe most religions probably are divinely inspired is based on my sense that they all share a common set of moral values and beliefs.
In other words it is the diversity in religious customs, traditions and specific aspects of different religious beliefs that lead me to conclude that they are merely a reflection of their human origins and the differences that have always existed in human interpretations of causes and effects in the world around them. But the fact that the core beliefs are virtually identical among these different religions is what leads me to believe that this aspect of all the worlds’ major religions probably was inspired by God.
So what do I mean by divinely inspired core religious beliefs as opposed to religious beliefs that are simply reflections of human interpretations of what God wants or expects us to do? Well I believe that I can sum up the divinely inspired religious beliefs in a single sentence. In your words, and even more importantly through your actions, show other human beings the same love, tolerance, patience and kindness you would wish them to show you.
Allow me to be more specific about what exactly this means. Since I don’t like it when others judge or condemn me for my actions or behaviour, even when I know these are not appropriate, doesn’t it stand to reason that I should also avoid doing this to others? Since I am desirous of love and affection from others without expectations that I must do something for them to get this, shouldn’t I also be willing to offer mine to them with no strings attached? If I wish someone would be kind to me or patient with me when I am struggling to deal with or learn something shouldn’t I try to treat others I see in the same circumstances likewise?
As for a few examples of what I mean by different human interpretations of what God expects from us, consider these. Is the Catholic Church’s prohibition on married priests a human religious interpretation or divinely inspired? Is the Christian belief that only those who are baptized will be able to go to heaven a human religious interpretation? Are the Jewish and Muslim dietary proscriptions against eating pork divinely inspired, or are they simply human religious interpretations of what God desires that date to the time of Abraham?
By now I’m sure you have probably guessed how I would respond to these questions so I will now attempt to discuss the role that these differences in religious beliefs based on human interpretations have played and will continue to play in recent controversies about wearing burqas in public and posting drawings of Mohammed on facebook.
While I am sympathetic to the reasons why the French government, as well as other European governments, are seeking to ban Muslim women from wearing burqas in public, they are wrong to propose doing so. Granted, despite what some extremist mullahs would have Muslims believe, there is no suggestion that Muslim women should be required to wear burqas anywhere in the Qur’an, and yes some women are forced to do so by their rigid and overbearing husbands. But there are also Christian religious sects that believe women should never cut their hair or wear pants so what should we do about them? Force them to go to the beauty salon at least once a year? As for women who are married to abusive husbands, the Muslim faith probably has the same proportion of these that every other religious faith has.
I believe these European proposals to ban the wearing of burqas are just as wrong as the Taliban regime’s insistence that women must do so. Both of these mandates are based on anachronistic beliefs that don’t relieve the tensions over differences in religious beliefs based on human interpretations that exist in different cultures, but rather serve to exacerbate them.
I am likewise sympathetic to the anger Muslims feel when unthinking members of non-Muslim societies promote things like offensive drawings of the prophet Mohammed. The guy who created this facebook page claimed he was standing up for the right to freedom of expression. By insulting Muslims who had never done anything to endanger it? I don’t buy his justification, but I also think the Pakistani government and many Muslims overreacted by cutting off access to facebook. As a result, they missed seeing that a facebook page called “Against Everybody Draw Mohammed Day” had 106,300 fans versus only 105,000 for the caricature page. Indeed, censorship cuts both ways.

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