I am tired of hearing that faith is the war monger of humanity so that peace will flow at last, like mighty rivers, the day we get rid of religion.
Religions will stay with us, probably as long as humanity will survive and they may even help us survive withe their lifebelt of hope.
Intolerance, rejection, hate and violence, are worldly, not divine; war has many causes other than religion; this is true even for the religious wars. To find the enemies of peace we must search here on earth, not in the heavens.
The ills of intolerance and unfreedom of thought were exemplified and proven by history, that case is made. Yes, those crimes were and are committed. And yes, religions went to war with each other. Each in turn, the great religions live their middle ages, we understood that. Indeed, the three brothers, descendants of Abraham, are still unable to see eye to eye.
The paradox strikes however: why faith, this pursuit of the human spirit of something sacred and good, is perceived by so many as a war monger?
Look at them and observe; all religions were revealed as ideals of peace, each of them gives to peace the highest value, they all wish "Peace!" as a most important thing for the host and the guest; all religions agree on the golden rule – do not do to another what you hate to be done unto you; all religions stand up as civilising forces meant to rise man above the beast, towards spirit and to the values of the greatest human Good: compassion, fairness, forgiveness, love, sincerity, respect for life. Isn't war the opposite of the aims defining any religion?
Religions were the vehicle and treasurer of civilisation from times immemorial, from the first respectful burials and meaningful drawings in prehistoric dark caves, to the splitting of the universe between Good and Bad, between Ahura Mazda and Ahriman, to the civilised man of Confucius, the compassionate Buddha, generous with all sentient beings, to the tables given to Moses, the Christ's "turning of the other cheek" and the spiritual struggle of Mohamed. War is the contrary of all that.
Those - believers or unbelievers - who care to read holy writ - any holy writ - with their own eyes, from beginning to end, see that they contain entire universes of thought and example of wisdom and folly, in fact they contain everything human mind can imagine, good or wicked. Selecting out from those chronicles of civilisation a few words of hate and an archaic call to kill - which you can always find - is perverse manipulation or beastly stupidity.
Saints, great mystics and grand theologians who live their faith deeply and entirely, understand the whole; they rise high with their faith instead of walling themselves into it, debate, commune and admire each other in their humility and love of God. Meanwhile, irritable goats clash on narrow bridges.
Intolerance, fanaticism and “fundamentalism” is not in the heart of the religions but in that of the bad people misusing religion and anything else - reason and science included - as an alibi to follow their predatory instinct, their insecurity, their interest or their proud hate. Murderous orthodoxy is not religious in nature; it can dress the garb of religion, of politics, nationalism, racism, greed, even of science or justice; any truth when it is unique and absolute begets monsters.
The same, who killed yesterday for food, land, women, power and aversion for difference, then for God, kill today for ideologies or for money and will kill tomorrow to save the planet. It is because of such freaks that believers get to hate each other.
No faiths clash, no gods fight with each other in the Heavens, but people who have the impudence to pretend that they personally represent and bring God on Earth; blasphemers who dare to think that a very high divinity can be reduced to their understanding or can be offended by the differing human quidam and that they are entitled to take up an imaginary gauntlet for that offense. Such sad bigots, instead of rising up to their God, spend their life to oppose one faith to another.
For religion to be a force of peace let us consider then – while we wait helplessly for a clash of civilisations – not the sacred truth that divides irremediably this doctrine from that – but the wisdom and the many values that make them alike here on Earth. Let us not be naive but count on our ten fingers not what separates but what could bring together the scattered good will.
Maybe we can advance carefully, for the sake of life, from hypocritical tolerance serviced with the lips, towards honest, negotiated, respect. Not in theory but in practice. Not by giving in with wobbly relativism, but with frank identities affirmed as a right of man. Maybe we can find the elements to build sacred rules of respect, the shared covenant to sign by all the respectable creeds of Planet Earth:
Which concrete things must all religious communities do – and refrain from doing - to practice respect for other religions and for the non-religions so that they have the moral right to be respected in turn?
What explicit signs of respect does science and rationalism owe to religion and to what signs of respect does Science and Reason have right in return?
Which things are - by common agreement - flagrant abuse of legitimate respect among believers of different creeds, convictions and theories?
What must the present-day leaders of a religion do to prove and keep it respectable, to deserve respect, to gain respect instead of going to war?
How to practice real-life respect in the face to face encounter and coexistence of persons belonging to different religious rites and customs or not belonging to them?
It appears that there are minimal conditions to mutual recognition while preserving difference:
Respect should be declared a sacred ground, safe, where conflict is at least suspended and judgment delayed with dignity. The wise will summon respect, with moderation, to suspend conflict and make negotiation possible. As long as we hold greeting hands, and pass the pipe of peace we may avoid hostility.
Second, believers must know each other, from childhood, school or by means of inter-religious events, to see the differences and feel if they are as great as the suspicion mystique around them. When we talk to each other, the ugly less than human faceless labels turn into persons with names and children, like us.
Third, when will the religious authorities legislate reciprocity? There is no such thing as demanding more respect or more freedom than what you give. Ask then not what respect you will be granted, but what respect you are able to offer, fairly; this is what you will get. Respect means entitlement, rights, but duties as well; no mutual duty no legitimate right.
Fourth, respect is clad in good manners, politeness and rules to follow – rites of peace. The work of peace will then be to draw up the golden-ruled savoir-faire book of etiquette among religions and also between religions and atheism for that matter.
Further, to allow space for respect, sacred spaces need frontiers and interspaces, not a hodgepodge melting pot.
Common sense shouts (in my ears) that humanity needs to check the hubris of this globalisation utopia and greed-driven Ponzi scheme that sweeps across the world, and crowds face-to-face, people who are not ready at all to talk and listen to each other. I know, it sounds sooo reactionary, so politically incorrect, so unliberal, but maybe we cannot but let some people live as they want, as long as they do not come with it, disrespectfuly, to our doorstep. Is peace worth that much compromise or must “the best” values and the most recent truth prevail universally, right now? Give time to time.
For the sake of world peace, instead of blaming divinity, we may find out who exactly, personally, are the war mongers today.
Religions being lived by people, it may be effective to detect and make visible the responsible individuals who are the opinion leaders of each faith at a given time, the ones who interpret the word of divinity and the actions that follow from that word here and now. Do not let them be anonyomous in their modesty. They are the ones accountable, partners to negotiate with or wrongdoers to lock up.
It seems to me that a small minority of the uncompromising is unavoidable, ever ready to put the world on fire; they should be held responsible in person for what they do, each depending on the importance of their office and their decisions. There are international tribunals for that, not only for fallen tyrants.
Another minority of saints, sages, mystics and devoted clerics work in each religion to extinguish the fire of evil with depth, compassion and love; they are forces of peace and they deserve the respect and the support, not the suspicion and the hostile critique.
These good people of the religions became, or always were, too shy, while the fanatics shout with loud voices easy to hear. They, the saintly, are the best ambassadors of peace. When they organise and speak with one voice they are powerful indeed. That joint power I dream of when I write about Religion as a force of peace.
I dream but I am not the only one...
The rest of each religious community follow the leaders. They are people like you and me, many of us trusting and quite easy to sway.
At the bottom-line, and deeper, to preserve peace, it is up to us, believers or not, to accept and proclaim – as civilised people - that it is normal to agree to disagree.
Since all true believers and unbelievers know certainly that the truth is theirs, to live in peace, instead of fighting to reduce other true beliefs to our own "the unique correct one" we will need to work out the human right and law that all people and all creeds have a right to error; as long as they do not force themselves upon other people.