The myth of interreligious hostility

It is often imagined that the followers of the world’s religions dislike each other merely because of their religious affiliation, and that religions encourage people to fight and kill those who don’t agree with them. That’s a bunch of crap.

It is true that religious people have killed other religious people. It’s also true that atheists have killed religious people, and that atheists have killed other atheists. The common denominator here is not religion, but human beings. It’s in our nature as humans to hate and kill. Religion doesn’t make people do that.

If you’re a history buff or foreign affairs junkie, you may have heard of the “clash of civilizations” thesis. This holds that the world is divided into “civilizations”, each of which is at odds with the other. The two “civilizations” that receive the most attention in this thesis are Western Christianity and the Islamic world. Supposedly, the Christians and Muslims have for centuries been divided into two warring blocs.

While there is an element of truth to that, the way history is presented here is misleading. While Christians sometimes fought Muslims, they also made alliances with Muslims against common enemies. This was quite common in places and times that are stereotyped as Muslim-Christian battlefields, like medieval Spain and the Crusader states.

Neither the Christians nor the Muslims fought simply on the basis of religious affiliation. There were always other factors at work that complicated the issue. For example, when the Ottoman empire was expanding into Europe in the 1400s and 1500s, the motivation for their conquests wasn’t to conquer them because they were Christian. It was to expand their power and wealth. At the same time the Ottomans were attacking Christian Hungary and Austria, they were also attacking Muslim Egypt and Iran.

Likewise, when the Christians fought the Ottomans, it wasn’t because they were Muslim, it was because they were attacking Europe. And the Christians in Europe made alliances with the Muslims in Iran against the Ottomans.

The perception that religions cause wars and make people hate each other is a religious dogma that atheists take on faith in order to justify their atheism. Unfortunately, Baha’is have also adopted this myth and take it on faith.

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10 Responses

  1. Good perspective!

    But tell me, why the need to make the needlessly generalizing statement that “Bahais have adopted this myth and take it on faith”? The issue is surely more nuanced than that (even :-)) from the perspective of the Baha’i writings as well as individual Baha’is.

    Greetings

  2. As an example of this attitude in the Baha’i writings, see Abdul-Baha’s remarks in the Promulgation of Universal Peace, in a talk at Green Acre on August 17, 1912:

    From the beginning of human history down to the present time the various religions of the world have anathematized and accused each other of falsity. Each religion has considered the others bereft of the face of God, deprived of His mercy and in the direct line of divine wrath. Therefore, they have shunned each other most rigidly, exercising mutual animosity and rancor. Consider the record of religious warfare, the battles between nations, the bloodshed and destruction in the name of religion.

    He continues with that for a while. Then note the contrast he makes with Baha’u’llah:

    Each one of the divine religions considers itself as belonging to a goodly and blessed tree, the tree of the Merciful, and all other religious systems as belonging to a tree of evil, the tree of Satan. For this reason they heap execration and abuse upon each other. This is clearly apparent in books of historical record and prevailed until the time of the appearance of Bahá’u’lláh.

    When the light of Bahá’u’lláh dawned from the East, He proclaimed the promise of the oneness of humanity.

    In other words, all other religions promote hatred and violence. Baha’u’llah, by contrast, taught that all men are children of God, and should therefore be one family.

    Speaking as a Catholic, that is highly misleading of my faith. I’m sure Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and others would agree with respect to their faiths. Catholicism teaches that all people are children of the one God. Christ came to unite the human family. We believe that the light of truth has been present throughout the world, not just among Christians. (We also believe the fullness of truth is found in Catholicism, but it would be hypocritical of Baha’is to criticize us for that belief, since they believe the same thing about their faith.)

    Compare what we Catholics believe to what Abdul-Baha claims we believe. His statements are false and uncharitable.

    And unfortunately, his attitudes toward other religions are found among Baha’is today, at least in my personal experience.

    Sure, you could nuance it. Baha’is also talk about how great other religions are, and how cool the followers of other religions are. You’ll hear postiive things from atheists too. But that prejudice is still there, and nuancing it doesn’t make it go away.

  3. Contrary to what you have stated, the Promulgation of Universal Peace is not part of the Bahai writings. It is a collection of unauthenticated talks, and therefore has no authority whatsoever for Bahais. Instead, The Promulgation of Universal Peace has the status of pilgrim’s notes. In one of his tablets, Abdul-Baha wrote the following: “Thou has written concerning the pilgrims and pilgrims’ note. Any narrative that is not authenticated by a Text should not be trusted. Narratives, even if true, cause confusion. For the people of Baha, the Text, and only the Text, is authentic.”

    There is a good article on this topic on Sen McGlinn’s blog, in which he gives some examples of the unreliability of these oral narratives. http://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2009/05/04/knowledge-project-or-process/

  4. Islamic holy war is also not a myth. There are dozens of verses in the Quran that establish the doctrine of violent jihad and that command Muslims to fight the infidels until they submit to Islamic rule.

    The abrogation in the Bahai Faith of the Islamic doctrine of Jihad and associated practices such as dhimma and jizya is one of the greatest differences between Islam and the Bahai religion.

  5. Reza wrote:
    Contrary to what you have stated, the Promulgation of Universal Peace is not part of the Bahai writings.

    This is a red herring. Okay, I won’t say it’s “from the Baha’i writings”. My point is that this attitude is present in the Baha’i community.

    It is a collection of unauthenticated talks, and therefore has no authority whatsoever for Bahais.

    No authority whatsoever? Then why do the Baha’i institutions publish it? If you’re suggesting that The Promulgation of Universal Peace teaches things contrary to the Baha’i Faith, then the institutions are making a serious error in judgment.

    In the talk that I referenced, half of the talk is about how religious people hate each other. Is the PUP so unreliable that it could even get the gist of a talk wrong?

    Like I said, the myth of interreligious hostility is present among Baha’is, and you come across it in their literature. I’m talking about an assumption Baha’is in general make. I’m not going to argue about whether it is a normative doctrine that Baha’is are required to believe in order to be Baha’is in good standing. I’m talking about a prejudice that exists among Baha’is.

    Here are some other examples from, let us call it, “Baha’i-themed literature”:

    J. E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, ch. 8:
    Never, perhaps, did the world seem farther away from religious unity than in the nineteenth century. For many centuries had the great religious communities — the Zoroastrian, Mosaic, Buddhist, Christian, Muhammadan and others — been existing side by side, but instead of blending together into a harmonious whole they had been at constant enmity and strife, each against the others.

    UHJ, The Promise of World Peace, page 8:
    Religious strife, throughout history, has been the cause of innumerable wars and conflicts, a major blight to progress, and is increasingly abhorrent to the people of all faiths and no faith. Followers of all religions must be willing to face the basic questions which this strife raises, and to arrive at clear answers. How are the differences between them to be resolved, both in theory and in practice? The challenge facing the religious leaders of mankind is to contemplate, with hearts filled with the spirit of compassion and a desire for truth, the plight of humanity, and to ask themselves whether they cannot, in humility before their Almighty Creator, submerge their theological differences in a great spirit of mutual forbearance that will enable them to work together for the advancement of human understanding and peace.

    UHJ< The Century of Light, p. 6:
    At the deepest level—because religion’s influence reaches far into the human psyche and claims for itself a unique kind of authority—religious prejudices in all lands had kept alive in successive generations smouldering fires of bitter animosity that would fuel the horrors of the coming decades.

  6. The Pope recruited men (and boys) from all over Europe to go and capture the Holy Land from Muslims during the Crusades.

  7. Kamy wrote:
    The Pope recruited men (and boys) from all over Europe to go and capture the Holy Land from Muslims during the Crusades.

    “and boys”? The Pope recruited soldiers.

    I don’t understand your point. Are you using the example of the Crusades in order to counter my argument? If so, I don’t see how it does.

    I acknowledge that some wars have had religious motivations. I disagree with the idea that the Christian and Muslim worlds have composed two warring camps locked in never-ending conflict. It is true that Christians and Muslims have fought against each other. It is also true that Christians have allied with Muslims against Christians, and Muslims have allied with Christians against Muslims. It happened during the Crusades, in fact.

    There are a lot of misconceptions about the Crusades, so let me clarify in case there is confusion on this point. Some people seem to think that the Crusades started because the Christians looked across the Mediterranean and said, “Hey, those people aren’t Christian. Let’s go kill them.” That is not what happened.

    The Pope called the First Crusade for several reasons. Among them were to help defend the Byzantines from Turkish invasion, to protect pilgrims who were being harassed by Turks in the Holy Land, and, like you said, to bring the Holy Land under Christian rule. The purpose of the Crusades was not to massacre Muslims or to destroy Islam.

    Once the Crusaders succeeded in conquering the Holy Land, they allowed the Jews and Muslims to continue practicing their religions, and they were on friendly terms with some of their Muslim neighbors. The Muslim world as a whole was not overly concerned with the Crusaders, since they took over a fairly small area and largely left their Muslim inhabitants alone. The Crusader states quickly became integrated into the local pattern of political relations among the small Muslim states in the region. The big threat to the Muslim world came from the east, in the form of Asian nomads like the Mongols. That’s who the Muslims were afraid of at the time, not the Crusaders or Christian Europe.

  8. I think that hostility between religions isn’t a myth, because people of a religion will be racist to other religions because they are not like them. Racism still exist. When I hear someone criticizing people of some other religion, they are doing it because they are different, and because of that they can’t know each other. It create hostility because they are not used to there culture. People of different religions couldn’t have a friendly conversation if they are talking about religion, because both think they are right and that the other is stupid and does not understand «the real life».
    Christians are complaining on multiple facts against muslims and jews because of some of their rituals. Opposite ideas only leads to a conflict.

    By the way, atheits are atheits because they don’t believe in God or other religious stuff and I am glad that finally in history there are some people that are stopping to be religious.

    There is still hostility between religions, just talk about something in another religion and you will see how people do not agree with it and that they want to make it stop. Just open your eyes and see how TODAY, there is still hostility, not only in the crusades.

  9. Hostility will always exist between people so long as there are differences. So, even if the world becomes united with one religion, speaks one language and has become a global country, people will still find reasons to dislike each other. Thus, I agree with Jonah’s position, even if his style is a little harsh for my preferences.

    I very much appreciate the work Baha’is have been doing to foster religious tolerance and acceptance, and I have never felt uncomfortable during one of their devotionals/prayer gatherings. But I do find the sometimes over zealous generalizations about what other people believe about their own religions, to be problematic and prejudiced in their own way. Not all Baha’is are like this, however.

    I have had interesting experiences where some Baha’is would tell me what I believe, which of course was outdated and harmful to “our times”. When I proved not to believe in the strawman arguments they set up on my behalf, I was written off as not “really believing” in the teachings of my own religion – because it sounded too good – and that would mean the Baha’i Faith wasn’t superior – so I was wrong.

    This is a kind of prejudice in its own way, because it assumes that everyone else is prejudiced. I personally don’t care if some people believe I will go to Hell when I die. They have the right to believe that, and say that. I don’t need to live in a world where everyone agrees with each other about religion.

  10. You have to got to be kidding, just one word Syria where a country has been obliterated because of sectarian rivalry. A few more words Al Quaida, the pogroms against the Jews in Europe, the ethnic cleansing in Spain during the inquistion, the Doctrine of Discovery which gave the indigenous lands to Europeans because the Native Americans weren’t Christian, the hundreds of thousands that died in sectarian conflicts of the Protestant reformation, the Times of Troubles of Northern Ireland. The persecution of Yazidhis in Iraq. The beheading of Copts in Lybia, the persecution of Moslems in Thailand. The persecution of Baha’is in Iran. The conflict between Pakistan and India, mostly fueled by religious difference. I could go on and on and on and on and on. Even the Pope’s speech in Philadelphia, 2015 addressed the issue with these words, “or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect of the dignoity of others.

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