Religious fundamentalism is at the heart of many of today’s problems. Taking religious absolute truths and using them to judge others has led to severe consequences, and the teachings of history have done little to ward off this same fanatical persecution in the present.
Today, we see Muslims killing in the name of Allah. We hear the rallying cry of the Christian Right in the West. We feel the judgmental finger waving of the atheistic scientific community. The list goes on and on. The problem here is that everyone believes that they are right. Funny though… out of all of the possible “right viewpoints” in the world, how is one to determine which one is really correct?
And therein lies the rub. Academics use the term pluralism to explain our individual “rights”. They say that everyone is entitled to their own version of “reality”. And really, I don’t see a problem with that. Each one of us does look at the world slightly differently. As an eldest child, I look at my upbringing as a tangle of rules, responsibilities and heightened expectations. I view my younger sister’s experience as a life of Riley, so to speak, where she ignored the rules, flouted responsibility and abhorred any sense of expectation from her parents and peers. And, I’m willing to bet that my sister sees our upbringing in another, totally different, light.
And that’s fine with me. So we perceive things differently. I won’t get all bent out of shape about it. In fact, I welcome the opportunity to hear how others perceived our growing up years. There’s nothing like hearing your own experiences told through someone else’s eyes. Others are likely to pick up on details that you miss, and that makes the story that much more exciting.
Unfortunately, sometimes the story will turn on me. I wasn’t always a model son or brother. In fact, there are a million little memories burned into my mind of times that I let everyone down and hurt my family and friends. I regret these times, but I can’t take them back. All I can hope for is forgiveness. And I’m lucky… as far as I can tell, I’ve left no lasting scars and my family still likes me and accepts me for who I am and for what I’ve done.
There are times in my life where families butt heads. There are different versions of the same story. Each person sees things slightly differently. The blame is placed on different people at different points in the story. Everyone feels that it wasn’t their fault. What to do then? How do you resolve those types of situations? Does each family member hold on to their own version, refusing to think, even for a minute, that what they experienced was the only possible way that things could have played out? And really, even if their version was completely right, does that still mean that the family should drive a wedge between each other, just for the sake of being right?
At the end of the day, right or wrong, aren’t we still part of a whole? We’re all part of the same family. Mom, Dad, sister, brother… and that’s just one combination. There are numerous different kinds, styles and sizes of families. But what should come of a family in crisis? Do they disagree just for the sake of being right, thus jeopardizing the health of the family? Unfortunately, some families do fragment from this type of approach. Looking from the outside in, most people look at those situations and feel disappointment and sadness that a family could allow itself to get to that breaking point. I can’t think of many people that celebrate the break-up of a family. Can you?
For the sake of the family, compromises are often made. Sometimes people agree to disagree. But seldom do we see families that mediate disputes by killing a family member that refuses to tow the family line. Can you think of any justified reasons for doing this? I certainly can’t. Sometimes it is necessary to restrain family members. In cases of abuse and neglect, it is sometimes even necessary to remove harmful family members. But to condone or even encourage the use of violence to “correct” difficult situations would be completely contradictory, especially as a retaliation for past violence. Physically retaliating or killing an abusive family member would only reinforce the message that violence is the right way to control a situation, which is what that abusive family member may have been trying to do in the first place.
Instead, don’t we want our families to heal? Don’t we want to regain a sense of normalcy and decency within our families? Isn’t it more enjoyable to love than to hate?
This is where we find ourselves with religion. Rightly or wrongly, we find ourselves on different sides of the same debate. All sides are arguing for the truthfulness of their own arguments. But unfortunately, all sides are claiming the same divine inspiration. Everyone feels that their own view is right and everyone else is wrong. The focus from all sides is: I’m right and they’re all wrong.
But really, haven’t we lost sight of the bigger picture when we focus on that question? In each of these religions, we see a similar divine message of love and peace. Christianity is bounded in the pacifist message of Jesus. Islam also contains this same message of peace. And grounding both of these Abrahamic religions is Judaism, which also strives for peace under the guidance of God. Looking further East, we see the pacifist teachings of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. With so many dominant world religions all touting the same message of peace, why do we find ourselves in such a state of turmoil? Isn’t it just a little contradictory to fight in the name of peace? Will killing you make me a more peaceful individual? I think not. Now that our fight is over, it might make me more peaceful for a little while. But what happens when someone else disagrees with me? Or what happens when your brother finds out what I did? Well… then we’re back at it again. Instead, why not try to come to terms with your disagreements? Why not try to resolve it the way we would with our immediate family members? Try to peacefully convince one another. Agree to disagree. At worst, agree not to talk about it anymore.
But is it really fair to try to convince someone through violence and if that doesn’t work, to kill them? Will that convince them? Violent coercion is nothing more than torture until you hear what you want to hear. But that doesn’t mean that the person on the receiving end of the torture means what they say. In most cases, they just want the pain to stop. Can you blame them? And killing them… that will definitely not convince them otherwise. And even if it did, how would you then know?
And furthermore, who gives you the right to judge me? Isn’t that God’s job? Last time I checked, judgment is the sole domain of our creator as our final judge. Yes, we do need to ensure there is peace and order during our short lifetimes, but that doesn’t mean that we go overboard. In the family unit, is it the father’s responsibility to kill an unruly child? I think not. By the same vein, it’s not our place to kill one another in the name of judgment either. At best, a loving father should be able to help guide a troubled child and to help them find their way in the world. This vision of forgiveness, teaching and rehabilitation sounds much more favorable to me. What do you think?
So come on now… be serious about your faith. If you’re following a religion of peace, does it make sense to kill in its name? And, do you really think you’re convincing anyone when you do that? And most importantly, do you think that your God of love and peace will look favorably upon you when you show up at his doorstep? As far as I know, heaven is supposed to be a place of love, peace and celebration. That doesn’t strike me as the kind of place where people will reminisce about the number of people they killed in order to “join the club”.
Give this some serious thought. If you want to send a message about the power and glory of your religion, set an example. If your example is one of violence and persecution, is that really where you’re at? Look at the core of your message. Think hard about where your religion would be in a perfect world. Strive to live out that message. Focus on yourself. Live by example. It’s hard for others to fault you if you do that. And if others do find fault, a pacifist response will make it even harder for them to justify a violent response. Raise the bar: Set the example. I can think of no better way to convince others than through living the life that you’d like others to follow. And if you’re reading the same texts that I am, then I’m guessing you’ll want to convey love and peace to those around you too.