One of my most common complaints from students is that they wish I wouldn’t bring up religion in class discussion. I can see it in their faces and the hair on the backs of their necks any time I broach the subject. Figurative dukes up, ready to defend. My retort for years has been if they (those who find offense, it’s certainly not everyone) can divorce their religion, the foundation of their values from the way they treat people, the way they communicate, I’ll gladly skirt religion.
As I write this there are nineteen countries involved in religious conflict. According to the Center for Reduction of Religious-Based Conflict, these countries include:
The Balkans – Eastern Orthodox v. Muslims
Brazil – internal Roman Catholic conflict
The Caucasus – Christian v. Muslim, Orthodox v. a breakaway faction
China – the government v. Buddhism, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Taoists
Egypt – Muslims v. Christians
Ethiopia – Muslims v. Christians
India and Pakistan – Hindus v. Muslims
Indonesia – Christians v. Muslims
Iran – the persecution of the Baha’is
Iraq – Shiites v. Sunnis
Malaysia – Hindus v. Muslims v. Christians
The Middle East – Judaism v. Islam
Myanmar – Buddhists v. Christians
Nigeria – Christians v. Muslims
Northern Ireland – Roman Catholics v. Protestants
The Philippines – Muslim v. Roman Catholics
Sri Lanka – Hindus v. Buddhists
The Sudan – Christians v. Muslims
The United States – Muslims v. Christians
Historic conflicts have been more ideological rooted in theology, a breakaway in thinking condemned by a ruling religious order. These ideologies include concepts such as the solar system, the properties of light, lightning, mathematics, interest on money, anesthetics during childbirth, birth control, inoculation, and the shape of the earth. Lives have been taken over these.
More recently, theology was used to justify slavery, genocide, and racism.
Today we’re fighting about gay marriage, unwanted pregnancies, capital punishment, sex education, polygamy, evolution, and the list goes on. These are quieter conflicts, though polarizing. What I’m not seeing is the amelioration of the human condition, a tide of compassion transcending tolerance. Instead there is division with patronized forbearance. For example, if while reading the list of countries above the thought crossed your mind that the reason these nations are warring is because they don’t have the truth that you enjoy, I’d bet that you’d complain about my class discussions as well.
Christ, Hillel, and Confucius held a common tenet, one that either exacerbates the nature of the crimes listed above or justifies their impetus. For Jesus it was treat others as you want to be treated. The great Rabbi taught, “What thou thyself hatest, do not to thy neighbor.” Confucius taught it with one word, reciprocity. Granted, the Koran is bereft of such an idea, though it does state, “No one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”
Each of the above is a variation of a theme, love one another or at least hate not one another. Oddly, it is a premise dropped in order to defend it.
So when I get comments like, “I go to Church on Sunday, I don’t need to hear Eric talk about it on Monday,” or “I don’t like it when Eric talks about religion,” or “Eric Young is the anti-Christ,” I get a bit blue, because I’m not getting through. And I realize I won’t with everybody, I know, but the authors of these comments are the ones who had the most to learn.
Like it or not, the way we treat people is inextricably linked to the way we value them and that value is drawn from an emotion of love or an emotion of fear. The nineteen examples above illustrate the power of fear.
If love prevailed we’d have much less conflict over religion. If love prevailed the differentiation between sects would be obscured, the colors of skin would integrate, and tongues would wag between smiles regardless of language. If love prevailed ire would sleep in my classes and I could entertain more useful feedback from my students.
Until then I’ll talk about religion in my classes and how it impacts the way we communicate.