I increasingly find myself sickened by the state of things in our country. It feels like America has been turned upside down: now truth means nothing, posturing means everything, and the middle ground is no man’s land. Turning on the news is like stepping through the looking glass: Nothing is as it seems, nobody is whom they’re supposed to be, everything could be anything.
Since (in my experience, anyway) fear diminishes as understanding grows, I have been seeking at least some understanding of how and why things have devolved to the state they have. And what I keep returning to as a primary cause of our collective dysfunction is religion.
As comforting, healing, and uniting as I know religious faith can be, I don’t think anyone would deny that it can also be a tool of torment, destruction and divisiveness. And while I’m sure it continues to be the former, more and more these days it seems contemptibly employed towards the latter.
Of course, religion has always been a catalyst for conflict. There’s hardly anything new in a Christian nation, for instance, waging war against Muslims or Jews. In the heart of man, religious zeal has always been but one beat away from bloodlust.
And now, in this country, we even have Protestants pitted against Protestants. It’s Jesus of the Right versus Jesus of the Left.
I like the way you write about religion, Mr. Shore: You seem respectful of its good, but not blind to its evil. So I wanted to ask if you personally believe it’s possible for people of different religions to ever live together in peaceful, permanent unity. I’m hoping you’ll bring me some much-needed relief by answering in the affirmative.
The degree to which people of different faiths can or will harmoniously co-exist depends entirely upon (surprise!) how much they really want to. Given a powerful enough mutual concern, for instance, even the most bitter enemies become fast friends.
In too short a time now, mankind will discover whether or not Earth being uninhabitable is a powerful enough reason for everyone everywhere to start getting along and working together. If it does, great! If not, then soon enough the world will become a real peaceful place anyway.
That said, I don’t believe it’s religion that causes conflict, but rather tribalism wearing the cloak of religion. If all religious sensibilities were miraculously wiped from the minds of all people everywhere, warring would barely pause.
When push comes to shoot, people go to war for two reasons, and two reasons only: to acquire power, and to defend their homeland. Religion’s got nothing to do with it.
Religious zeal complements war, most certainly. But it doesn’t cause it.
Permanent elimination of that particularly virulent form of conflict complementation requires two things: that no one ever uses their God to justify the bringing of harm to others, and that everyone who believes their God is the one true God also believes that everyone’s else’s God is also the one true God.
No injustice in the name of God; no “My God is better than yours.”
And voila: All conflicts informed or ostensibly caused by religion cease.
Bottom line: People war because they want to war. When they don’t to war anymore, they won’t.
If there’s one thing you can say about creating and maintaining peace, it’s that it ain’t rocket science. We all know how to do it. All we have to do is prefer it to the alternative.