Defiling Religion With Hate: How Individuals, Places of Worship, Society, and the Press Can Counter the Trend
Once again, terror has struck. Once again, lives have been lost. Once again, religion has been defiled by hate. The attacks in Pittsburgh, Christchurch, and Sri Lanka have reminded all of us that hateful people can skew the teachings of any religion and use them as a justification for violent actions.
Sadly, attacks by the few can create divisions among the many, expanding existing chasms between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and creating new ones. We must work diligently against that trend. Hate can spread like a virus.
Here are some of the things that individuals, places of worship, society and the press can do to minimize hatred's influence on society.
Individuals: Get to Know the 'Other'
Fear and mistrust are usually at the center of widening divides. Getting to know the ‘other’ (whoever that may be in your life) is a fundamental bridge-building approach. The founder of the Compassionate Listening Project wisely said that: “An enemy is someone whose story we don’t know yet.”
When we reach out to people for that purpose—either personally or through organized efforts—it is important to focus on the things we have in common, i.e. our shared humanity. Instead of talking about the things that we disagree on or focusing on how we believe in different things, we encourage individuals to engage in small talk, discuss the human life cycle, the weather, basic needs, hopes and dreams, obstacles and pains—life in general.
You see, the more that we can see ourselves, our shared humanity, in each other, the more likely we are to decrease anxiety and build trust over time.
Places of Worship: Open Your Doors
Places of worship and spiritual centers can open their doors and invite groups that they don’t know to build trust through shared humanity.
Bringing groups together is a gentle art. We recommend that leaders meet beforehand to create acceptable terms and guidelines (when possible) or work with local interfaith efforts, especially if emotions are running high. We have also seen beautiful outcomes when doors are opened without any preconditions, where vulnerability, humility and generosity have led the way.
That being said, it is important to temper expectations. A subtle lowering of anxiety can often have more long-term influence than instant camaraderie. Creating trust is a marathon, not a sprint.
Society: Heal Angry Young Men
The elephant in the room is obvious when we dig a little deeper. Most acts of hate and terror are committed by angry young men that have been poisoned by skewed ideology. Societies all around the globe must find ways to heal young men, to give them constructive purpose, to make them feel worthy, and teach them compassion and empathy. The coming technological revolution will bring with it massive unemployment and the problem will keep getting worse until we find a sustainable social solution and fully commit to it.
The Press: Cover the Harmony
As we have written about before, harmony is not only possible but is all around us. Yet, the press is quick to spread news of tragedies and horror, quick to assign blame to religious motivations, wittingly or unwittingly fanning the flames, often missing the larger picture.
There are thousands of people engaged in constructive efforts all around the globe that rarely get coverage. When they do, their stories are featured in human-interest sections, portrayed as rare, as an exception to the rule.
The truth is that violence is the exception. The proportions between violent acts in the name of religion and acts of kindness, goodness, and harmony performed by religious and spiritual people have been turned upside down in the media. There are thousands of acts of benevolence and generosity for every act of violence in the world.
The press can play a huge role in the altering of the narrative and they don’t have to look far for encouraging stories.
Passive Hope vs. Active Hope
In the face of violence, in the face of tragedy, in the face of hate, too many people turn inwardly to passive hope. “I hope things will change.” “I hope we can all get along.” “I hope the violence will end soon.”
If we are to turn the tide and change the narrative, we must move from passive hope to active hope. We must all do something. What I have described above is a good starting place. We must work towards a more hopeful outcome.
Rev. Gudjon Bergmann
Interfaith Minister and Author
Founder and Lead Educator at Harmony Interfaith Initiative
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Our Vision and Primary Goals
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We provide people with access to strategies, methods, and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge-building across divides. We use the term interfaith broadly to mean 'a strong belief in someone or something' and focus on improving interrelations between people who have different worldviews. Our primary goals are to remind people of our shared humanity and to support new and ongoing efforts.
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Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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