Religion seems more on trial than ever in history. Is it a positive force or dangerously divisive? Will it bring down human civilization or serve as the key to peace and survival? Clearly in league with government, religion can become a tyrant and a toxic force. It can lead nations to destructive ends.
What theocracies can do is self-evident, but that’s not so clear to zealots intent on merging faith and governance.
With national and world events seemingly spinning too much out of control to be solved, forces from many faith power centers are desperate to provide definitive answers. All speak from an urgency to save us from our evil ways, yet individually they are powerless to tame the hearts and actions of world leaders.
New firestorms erupt, setting back decades of work toward reconciliation.
Pope Benedict XVI spent last weekend mending fences with Muslims after uttering essentially one sentence on Sept. 12, quoting from the Middle Ages: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” His words triggered outrage and a massive debate over the pope’s decision to use incendiary words and whether Muslims themselves should use restraint in their reactions, as most, in fact, did.
The major religions pitch themselves as having the best hope, of having the best grasp on truth. While they have some common values and tenets, most have their extremists unwilling to just debate their merits in the marketplace of ideas.
Doomsayers foresee the ultimate showdown of Christendom with Islam. Some on both sides across the world are wary of any who would step onto their turf to find new followers.
The polarization seems dangerously beyond the tipping point. An Iraqi envoy meeting with the pope noted, “It is now time to put what happened behind and build bridges.” Albert Edward Ismail Yelda said the pope expressed “his profound respect for Islam,” and that was what Muslim leaders were looking for.
If it were only that easy. Alas, the pope’s remarks will resonate for years, not the fact that Muslim leaders sat down with him and began reconciliation. Instant worldwide communications make it all too easy for someone else to fire a verbal salvo to derail efforts of understanding and coexistence.
We can be inspired by the vast number of grass-roots peacemaking efforts, but they seem ineffectual in meanspirited geopolitics.
Editorial pages, Web sites, blogs and talk shows are passionately debating religion’s efficacy. Fierce words are fired at major religions. Roman Catholics, totaling 1.1 billion people, and Muslims, counting 1.3 billion, are suddenly angry with each other, and quickly a third of humankind is at odds.
Rationality and reason, not religion, are urged as the tools for resolution.
Nonbelievers can build a strong case for kicking the faith people off the island as the rest find real solutions.
On Monday, the Tribune’s opinion pages carried a letter from Larry J. Kluth of Mesa titled “It all comes down to religion.” Though he probably oversimplified things, his assertions underscore how badly orthodox religions seem to be making a mess of things. These were some of Kluth’s points: “Religious faith, defined as ‘belief in something for which there is no proof’ is the reason for most of the world’s unrest.”
Who can dispute that?
“It’s time for the religious and political leaders of the world to question their faith,” he argued. “Faith, truth and logic are not compatible.
“An honest look at religious history should make all religious leaders question their theology.” Kluth effectively raised a litany of questions about why an all-powerful God would show such inconsistencies: Why he suddenly first revealed himself in Jewish history, why he seemed to be left out in “great civilizations of the Aztecs and Mayans”; and why such a powerful being as God has failed to give all mankind one common message for all believers and why it has led to clashing theologies.
“Now, in the 21st century, he has the faithful believing in hundreds of denominations,” Kluth wrote.
“Faith is not conducive to finding the truth,” he said in his conclusion. “When we no longer look for some supernatural help to understand one another, we may find peace.”
This man’s call is not original. It reminds me of a schoolteacher so fed up with classroom rumblings, talking and noise that she bellows for everyone to put their heads down on their desks for five minutes, then starts the class all over, demanding that no one speak unless called on.
Religious excess is giving religion a bad name. It has turned off so many. Even religious people with the right motives are suspect. Sadly, some sovereign countries are incapable of meaningful negotiations with others because of the stranglehold of religious factions. Fundamentalism, in all its forms, has ushered in what has been called the “New Dark Ages.” Blind faith leads to darkness.
“Don’t worry,” says one bloc of Christianity, because the rapture will come and a 1,000-year reign of peace on earth will follow.
Short of that, religious rhetoric such as what happened with the pope will continued to spur distrust, flash points, hatred and separation, drowning out the feeble cry that “blessed are the peacemakers.”