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Religious Wars


At Issue: We hear so much today about wars fought in the name of religion, and even major political differences within faiths. Much has been said about differences in Iraq, the religious underpinnings of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians and even differences in the United States. The debate over religious history touched off by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” comes to mind. So does the debate over abortion. With these tensions in the name of faith, can religion ever be a force for peace in the world? How or why should it be?

Response: Religion does not cause wars: people do! Each person is responsible for interpreting and expressing his or her values and/or religious tradition. The ideals of a faith tradition are seldom lived fully by adherents, even those who are considered leaders or devoted followers. But this is no excuse for abandoning the values we most need, however disillusioned we may be by religious representatives or organizations. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa warned about “spiritual materialism,” the tendency for the ego to distort and use the spiritual path for its own limited purposes. The list of situations in which people active in religious traditions did nothing, caved in or were co-opted by corrupt governments is a long one (the Holocaust, for example). Yet people inspired by religious ideals have favorably influenced historic events such as the civil rights movement in the United States and the end of apartheid in South Africa.

The search for a “global ethic” is one of the most promising aspects of interfaith dialogue. “Religions should be able to agree that human beings should not live inhumanely” is how theologian Hans Kung puts it. Agreement about basic values and their application to international human rights issues should take precedence over sorting through differences about metaphysics or theology in dialogue between religious groups. Religious extremism, one of the most serious threats to world peace, will be most effectively countered by religious groups acting in union, rather than having their voice weakened by rivalry and ideological competition.

Tillich pointed out that everyone is religious: each person’s actions and choices reflect his or her ultimate concerns, be they money, God, family or football. The issue is not religion as such — it is human maturity.

– Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett

Published: May 29, 2004