Does religion equal division? It is a seemingly easy question to answer. From observing the news on any given day, most people would answer yes, religion does divide. Any number of conflicts around the world can be attributed to religious differences and modern political rhetoric is using religion to pit people against each other.
The same can be said when we look back at history. Religious differences seem to be at the root of many conflicts. The dividing aspects are easy to amplify. “I believe this, you believe that and that is why we are different. In fact, your beliefs so offend me that I am willing to take up arms against you.”
Those who place religion at the center of most conflicts use this rhetoric.
Religion Itself May Not Be the Cause
Comparative religion author, Huston Smith, maintained the position that most wars have been fought over lands and resources, been mired in tribal history (as in, “your tribe did this to my tribe many years ago, that is why we fight”), or been instigated by power hungry individuals who used religion to fan the flames of war. In short, divisive people cause division with divisive rhetoric and actions, sometimes under the guise of religion.
Can religious division be explained away like that? It’s probably too simplistic, even if there is truth to it. Religion can’t be exempt when it comes to divisiveness.
Faith Reflected in Behavior
However, when we look at the other side of the ledger, we see that religion has the potential to extract the very finest from within people and be the cause for harmony. There are religious people of all faiths who place tremendous emphasis on kindness and compassion.
Isn’t that the hallmark of true religion, practicing your faith until it shows in your behavior? In The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James notes that:
“…the feelings on the one hand and the conduct on the other are almost always the same, for Stoic, Christian, and Buddhist saints are practically indistinguishable in their lives.”
Practically indistinguishable. That doesn’t exactly rhyme with the idea that religion only causes division. In fact, what it says to me is that if more people truly practiced their religion instead of using it as a tribal identifier then we, as a society, would likely experience more harmony.
The Encouraging Half of the Equation
If the choice is between using religion as a wedge issue to create tribal divisions for personal or political gain on the one hand, and practicing religion to achieve the human pinnacles of oneness and goodness on the other, I can’t say whether or not we are going in the right direction at the moment. When I turn on the TV and look at social media, I see a lot of division.
However, when I look at the people who live peacefully together in my neighborhood, my fellow Interfaith Ministers who are working towards harmony, people from all faiths who come to local interfaith events that I attend, and the growing number of clergy members from all faiths who are calling for kindness and compassion, I am encouraged.
I choose to focus on the encouraging half of the equation. It is what I am working towards. We don’t all have to share the same beliefs to get along, but if we truly practice the experiential aspects of our faith traditions, if we tread the path towards love, compassion, and peace of mind, then we have a better than average chance of getting along.
We Are Faced With a Choice
We are faced with a choice between these two forces on a near daily basis.
We live at a truly auspicious moment in history and we have a choice. We can work towards harmony or we can work on deepening divisions. The latter path is easier, the former more important than ever.
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Our Vision and Primary Goal
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We envision a world where people have access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides. To us, the term 'interfaith' means the continual improvement of interrelations between people who strongly believe in different worldviews. Our primary goal is to support and supplement new and ongoing efforts.
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©Harmony Interfaith Initiative
Registered in Hays County, Texas
Founded in 2018
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