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Overcoming Religious Intolerance

 

By George A. Boyd © 1988

Religious intolerance is a divider of nations, the harbinger of war, and breeds ill will, animosity and contempt. It sets neighbor against neighbor by creating beliefs about the nature of man, the universe, the origins of the universe, what is correct behavior and right relationships with others. These beliefs exclude those who have different beliefs or behavior. It is the bastard child of fanaticism, which labels others who believe and behave differently as evil, unworthy of respect, of livelihood, and yes, even of life.

Religions are founded by individuals who have entered into mystic communion with Life's deepest Laws of Spirit, of Universal Mind, of Love and Power Unbounded to bring about spiritual advancement and to destroy the roots of man's inhumane behavior and self-limiting beliefs. Central to this activity is the formation of a core teaching–creating maps of consciousness, describing the universe, the nature of the Divine, the laws of Life. This world vision in turn may become codified in the form of a written scripture, and these scriptures are later subject to interpretation and elaboration by subsequent generations of priests and philosophers.

A religion through this process changes over time. Man's new knowledge of the world, new political conditions must be explained by this grand philosophy upon which each religion is founded. Individuals discontent with the parent teaching may start their own group, emphasizing some point of practice, of ritual or interpretation of scripture. The original parent teaching becomes multiplied, splintered into myriad sects, each claiming their own identity and claims to absolute validity.

In the changing topology of culture, the crust of religions is a dynamic force, inspiring architecture, art, literature, philosophical speculation, social reform, humanitarian effort, and conversion of values within a society. How a religion impacts a culture is a reading of both the change within a religion and also the relative health of the religion. Change within a religion is its ability to adapt to new trends in the world through technological advances, to contact with other cultures and exposure to competing ideas, beliefs, and practices. The relative health of a religion refers to whether in its journey through history it remains a vital and vibrant force or whether it becomes an insidious force. When it is a positive influence, it finds new ways to revivify its idealism and altruism, and continues to be a source of hope and meaning for mankind. When it shows its dark side, religion breeds fear, paranoia and xenophobia, instills guilt, and fosters hatred of other religions in the minds and hearts of its followers.

The psychological impact of a religion upon the individual is one of the pulses that we can take of a religion's health. Fanaticism is the collective of the deleterious influences of religion upon the individual psyche, where the excesses of the individual are grossly amplified and distorted by the group mind.

Fanatics are motivated by terror, by rage against a world they feel that does not understand them. Fanatics within a religion project this rage against an enemy personifying evil. In the mind of the fanatic it seems that the invisible Satan controls external forces in the world, making his appearance as a competing religion, an oppressive political regime, another nation, a dissimilar race or creed. By destroying this apparently external source of evil, fanatics believe that salvation and victory will finally be gained.

What is really happening is that they are massively denying their own pain, fear, and feelings of powerlessness. Instead of experiencing those feelings,, which would allow them to get in touch with their genuine humanity and sense of connectedness with others, they act out in fantasy. They fantasize conquest, which makes them feel courageous. They plot revenge against their enemies, which tries to make the pain and grief go away by punishing another. They posture in defiance, which is an attempt to feel powerful by belittling, hurting, or oppressing another. In the fanatics' wake, people's lives, families, communities, even nations are torn asunder. These cowardly acts are labeled as heroism; needless death as martyrdom, genocide as purification. Euphemism hides a multitude of sins.

Religious intolerance is an attitude spawned by fanaticism. The time worn, ossified habits of rites and rituals, the constant reminders and homilies of morality that religion impresses on its follower's lives were set into motion long ago. These rites and dogmas were established with the intention of motivating virtuous behavior, to foster loving thoughts and deeds of charity and kindness, to be pleasing to Divinity and harmless to fellow man and fellow creature. The fanatical fringe of religion, however, knows none of these. All manner of human suffering and lasting hatreds, untold cruelty and abiding prejudices have come out of fanaticism's radical solutions–crusade, holy war, inquisition, forced conversion and revolution.

Revolution is born of psychological and social upheaval, from bearing injustice and oppression for far too long. But the revolution of fanaticism is blind, and often leaves in its wake a more potent oppression than the one it supplanted. Religious mania coupled with nationalistic fervor have brought to power many like the Ayatollah Khomeini throughout History, who crush dissent and free-thinking, who dictate oppressive law and strict morality, and lead their followers onward into needless war, misery and suffering.

Is it that fanatics feed on our need to have a mighty Power outside ourselves vanquish the evil in the world, so that we might no longer experience suffering? How ironic—in giving away our power to another, we often create an even greater suffering for ourselves.

Taking back our power, taking responsibility again over our prejudices, our resentments, our deep-seated intolerance is one way that fanaticism can be defused. Towards this end, I offer the following meditative ideas (seed thoughts) that can help us move from the thicket into the clearing about this subject:

  • The core of religion is mysticism, the direct inner experience of the Divine. When the inner is born, the outer forms take on less importance.

  • Those Who have gone to the heights of the mystic journey report that all religions known to man exist within the continuum of Spirit. Those that cross the mighty ocean of Universal Mind may see the symbols, archetypes and heroes of these religions hung like jewels in the planes of Light within.

  • At the profoundest depths of mystic communion, the Divine and man are an indissoluble Unity. Each human being discovers through various paths and experiences that his or her origin is in this Unity, and finds that despite the apparent diversity and differences that there is a common bond that unites mankind, and all of the kingdoms of Nature.

  • The goal of spiritual activity is the evolution of the spiritual principles within Man.

  • Religion can be a cage that enslaves human thought and belief. Within this cage is a door to freedom. The path of the heart, of love, is an opening door into the world of the Spirit that is beyond man's feeble conceptions and creeds.

  • Each religion has discovered some aspect of the Eternal Truths of Life. As I study and meditate upon these ideas, I find some that are applicable to my own life and experience.

  • Through religion I learn that my life has purpose, meaning, and value. Through my own experience I learn the lessons of life and practice the truths I have made my own.

  • Truth is not the exclusive possession of any religion or creed. Truth is what I discover when I am able to look with open eyes and without preconceived notions. I discover truths for myself through my own inquiry and seeking. Though I may listen to the beliefs and teachings of others, what I ultimately choose as my personal values and beliefs must be subject to my own criteria. My truths are subjective, for I must choose what I believe.

When all is said and done, the phenomena of religious intolerance yet persists in the world. It takes courage to challenge the assumptions of religion, and to look at the role it plays in our lives.

  1. We need to question the authority by which religion imposes its rule on the hearts and minds of men, for to do so will give us back our power.

  2. We need to examine how it has imbedded its principles in our cultures, in our laws, in the institutions that govern us, educate us, and socialize us.

  3. We need to challenge the ideas of religion that frighten us, that threaten us with supernatural doom, that make us feel unworthy, unclean, and guilty, and see in them the hidden fingers that seek to control us, to manipulate us into believing and behaving in measured, predictable ways. The demagogue that plays upon our visceral emotions of fear and rage may be found in the pulpit as well as in the public square, and both seek to win us over to their way of seeing, of believing, of behaving.

As long as external forces and institutions still dictate how we shall think and act, what we shall believe, in that measure we have capitulated our birthright to find truth for ourselves. Religion at its best should not enslave us to rite and creed, a weary round of pilgrimage and whisperings, but rather it should point us to the Light Within. It should introduce us to Wisdom, to Genuine Altruism, to the gifts that dwell in the Soul, but then it should cease speaking and allow us to listen to our own Voice of the Silence, our Inner Teacher. It should hold high for us the noble examples of the past for us to emulate, but then it should lead us to the doorway of our own Soul, and encourage us onward to the Greatest of Journeys, the Sublimest Adventure.

 

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