Religion - boon or bane

A reader asks: Is religion the cause of much of the world's ills?

Religion (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Hi Ladies. I am a traditional “50-somethingish” woman from Canada. I live in a mixed religious/secular neighborhood in Ra’anana, and while I have some religious friends and a sprinkling of haredi family members, in the main my family and friends are secular.
Having lived in this country for over 30 years, enduring wars, ethnic tensions and Muslim-Jewish conflict, I’ve come to the conclusion that religion has a lot to answer for. Looking around the world today it seems as if religion is the cause of all the current ills – not just here in the Middle East. Don’t you agree? – Jew in name only
Tzippi Sha-ked: I can’t entirely disagree, especially today as one particular religion mows down innocents worldwide. Religion inspires the masses either to act ethically or to become Harry Potter death-eaters. All belief systems – secularism, communism, environmentalism or even “PETAism” – can lead to fanaticism, if taken to extremes.
While I’m not sure any religion creates good people, belief in a moral God can steer one toward ethical behavior.
When there is no God, no ultimate arbiter of good versus evil, morality is reduced to personal opinion. A world without religion is a world steeped in moral relativism. Is ethical monotheism a guaranteed recipe for a better world? No. But I believe it’s still our best shot.
However, I believe that religion should not govern; it should inspire. So religion should be divorced from state and military powers; it is there to steer the individual toward self-growth and introspection.
There are periods of major setbacks for religion; we’re witnessing one. Every generation believes the sky is falling, that this time all hell is breaking loose. When religion is involved, when religion incites, censures and urges killing the “other,” society should step in.
There’s no room in modern-day society for such creeds.
The return to moral religion will come when the collective world purges incitement from the lips of preachers, weeding out the rot. We, too, need to be vigilant about home-grown extremism: religious “Talibanization,” hot-headed hilltop youth and extremists on both sides of our political spectrum are a definite danger to all.
Pam Peled: “No man is an island, entire of itself,” said John Donne. Everyone needs community, a sense of being loved. A baseball team will do that, a knitting circle; religion does it better.
Religion comes complete with communal singing and rules and friends in similar clothes; community plops lasagnas on doorsteps in troubled times.
No one loves like God does; His compassion is unconditional. He loves you fat or thin, honest or corrupt, happy or sad. Each of the roughly 4,000 religions on earth today believes it has God’s truth.
Most espouse peace and harmony and good deeds.
Mankind seems hardwired to need spirituality; a belief system helps make sense of our chaotic passage through life. Religion is comforting. But, with God on your side, no one else’s rules count. God wants Shari’a law? Simple. Kill the unbelievers. God wants Ireland Catholic? Then terrorize Protestants.
Jews are not traditionally known as warmongers; Jews aren’t feared abroad for their brutality. Yet today in Israel, “price-tag” atrocities and Jewish terrorism have been almost exclusively perpetrated by kippa-wearing louts, in the name of God. Why? As I see it, the problem with religion is that it so smoothly morphs into cult, co-opting a narrative that seems the opposite of religious: violent and exclusionary.
Christian Crusades and holy wars raged for centuries.
Islamic extremism is way out of control. And all Jewish viciousness can’t simply be the work of loonies.
To me it seems sad but true – something in religion veers easily toward a dangerous space, which is not uplifting at all.
Danit Shemesh: My father always said religion separates.
I grew up on that mantra and yet have changed my understanding. To call religion a killer is to judge from a narrow mind-set relying on the human cerebral need for a clear understanding of the bigger picture.
My father didn’t have God as a directive, so it’s understandable that he admired a politically correct “ism” yearning for the impossible: world peace. However, when faced with the limits of human cognizance, anyone can see that we need God to direct us, not another passionate speech into a microphone. Sometimes God’s directive is counterintuitive to political correctness. Then we are faced with a choice: to capitulate to the party line at a moment in history, or to live by our credo.
If we live by a belief, we will fight for it to the end because it is our reason for being, the north on our compass.
It is the opposite of living according to society’s expectations. The word of God is vital and life-giving.
The definition of a hero in the Torah is one who will not bend his truth; Phinehas, Moses, Abraham and more.
However, if the credo is to kill for killing’s sake, then this is not religion. This is a dangerous power-driven psyche. I agree that such a belief system is terrifying and destructive, but it is not religion per se. I cannot comment on other religions, but to consider Judaism as such is to be ignorant of its essence.
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