As the New Year dawned, there was a surge of religious violence around the world – largely Muslim on Christian. Blood was spilled in Nigeria, Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan. Being Jewish however, doesn’t keep me from losing sleep about these terrible events. The real question is what, if anything can be done to turn the tide against religious violence.
There is no question that the “wall of separation” between church/synagogue/mosque/temple and our own American government, plays a pivotal role assuring both freedom of religion, and freedom from religion for all people living within our borders. It is not however the only model which can do so and is certainly not a viable option for vast segments of the human community which still assume an integral linkage between religious identity and political power.
That being the case, and assuming that one remains troubled by the use of religion to fuel violence and oppression, what are we to do? Simply telling the world that they ought to be more like us is not going to work. To be more like us, to uphold that separation, betrays the teachings of their faith for most of the world’s believers.
When it comes to religious conflicts and religion-inspired violence, most people need religious solutions. Rather than forcing a choice between genuine faith, as they understand it, and liberal democracy, people need to see some version of the latter as a manifestation of the former. And this must be accomplished largely from within each effected religious community.
Members of any religious community which practices religion-based oppression and violence must take on the members of their own community, and they must do so on religious terms. Ironically, the wall of separation, which works so well here in America, must be breached, at least if we hope to see greater religious freedom around the world, any time soon. Only when people believe that religious freedom for all is itself a mandate from within whatever particular tradition they hold dear, will this condition improve.
Sadly, those who appreciate how toxic a role religion plays in global conflicts are often the most resistant to embracing the constructive capacity of those very same traditions in addressing the conflicts. Simultaneously, those who devoutly embrace a given tradition too often become apologists who refuse to acknowledge and address the damage done by significant numbers of those who share their faith.
Religion will be part of the solution when those who call themselves religious embrace a vision of the world which accords full dignity and equality to all people, regardless of the faith they follow, including no faith at all. They can keep on believing such people are fools, if they must, but they must imagine that suffering such “fools” with full equality is itself a mandate of their faith.
This will not be accomplished by after-the-fact expressions of regret, no matter how eloquent. This has to be addressed proactively by religious leaders who move this issue to the very top of their agendas. For example, when the faithful are taught that protecting those who don’t worship as they do, is as sacred (dare I say more so?) as going to worship, we will have a shot at turning the tide. Anything less and we are looking at a bleak future in which tens of thousands, if not millions, more will die.
Religious leaders, who can make this turn, hold the keys to a better future. And those who fail to do so are almost as guilty as those who do the actual violence and practice religious oppression. The only difference is that one sins by commission and the other by omission.