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WHY RELIGIONS SOMETIMES PROMOTE HATRED, VIOLENCE, AND GENOCIDE

WHAT BELIEVERS THINK OF THEIR OWN
RELIGION COMPARED TO OTHER FAITHS

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Sponsored link.


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Overview:

We have a hunch that a root cause of much of the world's religiously-motivated conflicts -- oppression, murder, mass murder, and genocide -- is to be found in religious believers' own concept of the nature of their own religion as compared to other religions. If this is true, then religious discrimination and violence may be reduced by modifying the teachings by religious leaders. Unfortunately, the cure is probably impossible to implement.

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Definitions:

According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World Christian Encyclopedia" there are 19 major world religions which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many more smaller ones. 1 With such religious diversity throughout the world, there is little agreement about the meanings of basic religious terms. We use the following definitions in this web site:

bulletReligion: Our essays define "religion" very broadly as: "...any specific system of belief about a deity or deities, often involving rituals, a code of ethics, a philosophy of life, and a specific worldview." A worldview is a set of basic, foundational beliefs concerning deity, humanity and the rest of the universe. This is not a perfect definition. It does not fit well with such most traditions of Buddhism and Atheism that have no concept of deity. It is broad enough to include communism and other belief systems that are not normally thought of as religions. Still, it is the best that we have found to date.
bulletTheistic religion: This is refers to a set of beliefs, usually involving the existence of a single personal deity who created the universe, continues to control it, and seeks a relationship with humans. We use the term in its most general sense to involve religions which believe in a deity or deities consisting of a God, a Trinity, Gods, a Goddess, Goddesses, or a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses.
bulletMonotheistic religion: This is a theistic religion which involves belief in a single, personal God. Typical examples are Islam and Judaism who believe in a single, indivisible deity. Christians generally believe in a Trinity: three persons in one deity. They regard themselves as also being monotheists. Together, their followers account for about 53% of the world's population. Since most of the religiously motivated violence in the world is linked to these three monotheistic religions, we will concentrate on them in this essay

For simplicity, we will use the term "God" in this essay to include a deity viewed as male, female or without gender. Since there is no generally accepted gender-free pronouns, we will refer to God as "he."

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The two basic types of religions:

One way to view world religions is to divide them into two groups: "top-down" and "bottom-up" faiths:

bulletA top-down religion is one in which God has revealed himself to humanity. Typically, this type of  religion teaches that God created humanity, the world, the solar system, and the rest of the universe. He gave humans a moral and legal code, and has communicated his expectations of humanity to us. God is normally considered all powerful, all knowing and all good (omnipotent, omniscient and omnibeneficient), and without error. Many top-down religions teach that God either dictated their holy book, or communicated its contents through an intermediary, or inspired its writers to write error-free text.
bulletA bottom-up religion is one created solely by humans. The founders attempt to describe their best impression of what God might be like. Their descriptions of the origins of animal species, the Earth itself and the rest of the universe reflect their level of scientific knowledge. In the case of ancient religions, this might be quite limited. Their moral and legal codes tend to follow the values of their own culture, which is often tribal in nature. They attribute these laws to God in order to pressure their fellow believers in to accepting them. The authors invent some form of life after death, which may take the form of eternal life in a Heaven, Paradise, Purgatory, Hell, Limbo, etc. Alternatively, it might involve reincarnation -- returning to Earth after death to experience additional lifetimes. Holy texts of bottom-up religions show a gradual evolution of religious and spiritual thought when their oldest writings are compared to the newest texts.

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How people view their own religion, and other religions:

Many, perhaps most, people view their own religion as the only top-down religion in the world. They believe that their God is the only deity in existence. Their God created humans and the universe, and gave humanity its only valid moral codes. Their fellow believers are often believed to be the only people who are assured of salvation and eternal life in Heaven or Paradise. Those of other faiths have no such certainty of an afterlife. Knowing that their religion is true and that other religions are in various degrees of error, it can become difficult to extend religious freedom to persons of other faiths. Some top-down believers accept the Golden Rule, but apply it mainly to fellow believers, to the exclusion of followers of other faiths.

Followers of the only top-down religion often consider all other religions to be bottom-up faiths -- ones that teach false Gods and a false moral code. These other Gods are created by humans rather than vice-versa. Their Gods may even be considered as demons. These bottom-up faiths are seen as leading their membership down a trail of destruction. They are often viewed as having a negative affect on society.

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Implication of this viewpoint:

A person born in, say, Texas will very likely grow up to be a conservative Christian. They would be a firm believer in the Trinity and would fully expect to go to Heaven after they died. But if circumstances had been different -- perhaps the stork became disoriented in a storm -- and they had been born and raised in Saudi Arabia, they would almost certainly be a Muslim, believing in Allah as the sole, undivided deity, and hoping for an eternity in Paradise. If they had been born in India, they probably would have adopted Hinduism and believed in the panentheistic principle of Brahman -- that all reality is a unity. They would believe in the transmigration of the soul expect to reborn into a new body after death -- hopefully a human body. The religious beliefs that a person hold so firmly are largely an accident of birth location.

With the various religions teaching different beliefs and practices, it can be argued that only one faith teaches the truth; perhaps none do. If there are 270 major religions in the world, then -- to a first approximation -- the chances of any one religion being completely true is miniscule. Yet people tenaciously believe in the truth of their faith to the exclusion of all others.

According to the beliefs of most monotheistic religions, it should be a simple task to determine which religion is the "true" one: one simply has to ask for God's assessment during prayer. However, a small pilot study that we have conducted appears to indicate that assessing God's will may not be possible.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. David B. Barrett, et al., "World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World," Oxford University Press, (2001). Read reviews or order this book

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Copyright 2006 & 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-MAR-01
Latest update: 2007-AUG-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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