Over the last week, the international news media have once again underscored the depths of depravity to which the world’s religions can descend. Nothing new, perhaps, but so much at once: paedophilia rampant among Pennsylvania’s Catholic clergy; escalating internecine warfare between Islamic sects in the Middle East; murderous conflict between Buddhists, Hindu and Muslim communities in Myanmar.
I confess to having little proficiency in religious studies. I have spent far too long trying to understand my own stumbling faith as a follower of Christ to have the temerity to comment on other faiths (including atheism which is, after all, another belief system). However, one thing I observe – naively perhaps – is that none of the preeminent religions of the world have at their foundations a doctrine of violence. Quite the contrary in fact, notwithstanding their religious writings being records of battles, punishment and – yes – misogyny. (One can only guess that religious scriptures were developed and written by men in an effort to re-make God in their own image: masculine and all-powerful!)
Conflict, it seems, stems from such cultural differences, and violence is born as a manipulation of cultural differences driven by greed. Cross-cultural differences wilt in the face of education – not just “book learning”, but being exposed to the cultures of other people and sharing knowledge and understanding with one another. It is that learned wisdom that can act as a prophylactic against the wicked, who thrive on achieving (or maintaining) power using the tools of division and fear.
Our cultures draw from our past, and are to be celebrated, shared, and never debated. The only debates worth having are about our future.