Faith can be misused for mistreating others

Rev Dr Keith Beech-Gruneberg

Rev Dr Keith Beech-Gruneberg

First published in News

Rev Dr Keith Beech-Gruneberg, director of local ministry training at the Diocese of Oxford reflects on conflict inspired by religious differences 

 

As I write this, the news headlines are dominated by conflict. Every day we hear the latest from Iraq, Gaza/Israel and Ukraine. Occasionally there is good news. But more often it seems the situations become even more intractable.

All of these conflicts have a strong ethnic dimension – something we are all too familiar with. And all of them have a religious dimension too – and again, of course, this isn’t unusual.

This prompts in me two reflections.

First, I don’t think it shows religion is a bad thing. I think it shows religion is something important. It’s because it really matters to people that they are prepared to fight for it, or to suffer for it – whether this is justifiable self defence, misguided enthusiasm, or the result of manipulation by those misusing the religion for other ends. And because it really matters to so many people, it becomes a factor in so much conflict. The way many atheist regimes, such as Stalin’s Russia, behaved suggests we certainly wouldn’t be better off without religion.

A person’s religion, if they take it at all seriously, is a significant part of their identity. It’s fundamental to who they are. It helps to define them both as an individual and (at least in the case of most religions) as a member of a group who share that religious identity. It can then get mixed in with ethnic, cultural, political and all kinds of other factors too. And just like putting patches of different colours onto a piece of paper at its best this creates a rich pattern, at its worst it creates a mess. So again we shouldn’t be surprised when religion is a cause of conflict. My second reflection comes from the way that in the current conflicts we can see Christians, Muslims and Jews as both aggressors and as persecuted. In Iraq, Christians and others are suffering at the hands of an extremist Muslim militia. In Ukraine, Catholic Christians are pitted against Orthodox Christians. And in Gaza/Israel, though opinions may differ on whether one side has more right on its side than the other, we surely see both the people in Gaza (largely Muslims) and those in Israel (largely Jews) as both aggressors and victims.

So those of any faith need to beware the possibility that our faith could be misused as a justification for mistreating other people. No faith is immune to this possibility. And in the same way those who do not follow any religion need to realise that those things that shape their identity and that matter to them could also be twisted into a reason to attack others.

But equally followers of any faith may be persecuted for that faith. We can’t assume that just because someone is a Christian, or a Muslim, or a Jew, then they can’t possibly be the victim of persecution – however other people who claim to follow that religion may be behaving elsewhere, or whatever may have been the case for followers of that religion in the past. We need to look at the facts of the particular case – whether that is life-threatening situations faced in some countries, or when someone in this country claims they are being discriminated against.

Comments (6)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

10:12am Mon 18 Aug 14

Oxonian says...

The reverend says "I don’t think it shows religion is a bad thing".

If religion causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?
The reverend says "I don’t think it shows religion is a bad thing". If religion causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing? Oxonian
  • Score: 0

10:27am Mon 18 Aug 14

xenarthra says...

Oxonian wrote:
The reverend says "I don’t think it shows religion is a bad thing".

If religion causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?
Your question contains a category error. It is people who cause conflict and who can do good and bad. People who fight each other often wear different styles of clothes from each other; however you wouldn't ask "if clothing style causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?".
[quote][p][bold]Oxonian[/bold] wrote: The reverend says "I don’t think it shows religion is a bad thing". If religion causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?[/p][/quote]Your question contains a category error. It is people who cause conflict and who can do good and bad. People who fight each other often wear different styles of clothes from each other; however you wouldn't ask "if clothing style causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?". xenarthra
  • Score: 1

12:12pm Mon 18 Aug 14

chavster says...

I think Steven Weinberg put it best:

"With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion. "
I think Steven Weinberg put it best: "With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion. " chavster
  • Score: 2

1:37pm Mon 18 Aug 14

King Joke says...

Invariably groups who come into conflict who are different religions are competing for something else - wealth, resources, political representation etc.

Religion isn't totally at fault.
Invariably groups who come into conflict who are different religions are competing for something else - wealth, resources, political representation etc. Religion isn't totally at fault. King Joke
  • Score: -1

3:48pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Oxonian says...

xenarthra wrote:
Oxonian wrote:
The reverend says "I don’t think it shows religion is a bad thing".

If religion causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?
Your question contains a category error. It is people who cause conflict and who can do good and bad. People who fight each other often wear different styles of clothes from each other; however you wouldn't ask "if clothing style causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?".
But people in conflict are often in conflict over religious differences, not because of the clothes they are wearing!
[quote][p][bold]xenarthra[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]Oxonian[/bold] wrote: The reverend says "I don’t think it shows religion is a bad thing". If religion causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?[/p][/quote]Your question contains a category error. It is people who cause conflict and who can do good and bad. People who fight each other often wear different styles of clothes from each other; however you wouldn't ask "if clothing style causes so much (unnecessary) conflict, how can it be a good thing?".[/p][/quote]But people in conflict are often in conflict over religious differences, not because of the clothes they are wearing! Oxonian
  • Score: 1

3:54pm Mon 18 Aug 14

Oxonian says...

King Joke wrote:
Invariably groups who come into conflict who are different religions are competing for something else - wealth, resources, political representation etc.

Religion isn't totally at fault.
I agree that other considerations may be in people's minds, but my point is that religion is often at fault. And how many people who profess to follow a religion that preaches tolerance and understanding often fight other people without exercising those qualities?

Jesus supposedly said "Blessed are the peacemakers" but Christians have sometimes been very unpeaceful - e.g. the Christians killing Muslims in the Crusades.
[quote][p][bold]King Joke[/bold] wrote: Invariably groups who come into conflict who are different religions are competing for something else - wealth, resources, political representation etc. Religion isn't totally at fault.[/p][/quote]I agree that other considerations may be in people's minds, but my point is that religion is often at fault. And how many people who profess to follow a religion that preaches tolerance and understanding often fight other people without exercising those qualities? Jesus supposedly said "Blessed are the peacemakers" but Christians have sometimes been very unpeaceful - e.g. the Christians killing Muslims in the Crusades. Oxonian
  • Score: 2

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree