Perlman, Washer and Wolfe: Faith in the 21st century

Faith is now becoming the new currency with which international relations are dealt. Boundaries based on culture, identity, even nationhood are wearing out. Religious faith, perennially crucial to so many people’s identity, might outlast secular faith in ethnicity or culture, which have not provided a sustainable cohesive effect within or among societies.

In a new, globalizing world, where the cliché of a global community becomes a political, economic and social reality, the serious acknowledgement of and engagement with religious faith will be crucial to the future of international relations — just as industrialization might have been to nationalism in the post-Westphalian (1648) or post-Viennese (1815) comity of nation-states.

Whereas ideologies, chiefly secular, framed much of the 20th century — fascism, communism, Nazism, to name a few — it is quite possible that faith might shape the 21st. Whereas the 20th century gave rise to a need to manage nations and nationalisms through a League of Nations and the United Nations, the 21st might require some “league of faiths” or a global engagement with increasingly significant religious identities that supersede national affiliations.

In general, religions seem to be much more suited to the world of the 21st century than our nation-states have been thus far. The future of the nation-state as the ultimate arbiter of justice and good in the world appears more and more doubtful.

In his recent book “The Shield of Achilles,” American thinker Philip Bobbitt writes that we have even already passed beyond the nation-state into what he calls the “market state” — a supranational entity driven by economic desires and commercial expansion to export a national “brand” on a transnational level. States tend to think local and act global; religions think global and act local. That is to say, the nation-state has the tendency to think within its own local framework before embarking on global decision-making, whereas religion reflects upon its global worldview and brings its implications to its adherents in local contexts. In an era of globalization, the latter outlook has profound implications for the forces driving international harmony.

Yet, as the battle between left and right over national markets continues to give way to a more general fight between moderation and extremism, openness and closedness — and as globalization pushes nations together — many maintain faith will end up pulling them apart.

At first, it appears they might. Once uniquely religious or doctrinal problems become politicized in ethno-national conflicts — and vice versa — they appear insoluble: Where compromise in politics is a virtue, in religion, it’s a vice. That is to say, compromise, while crucial to political reconciliation, is often wrongly discouraged in religious convictions.

But whereas within a single religious tradition compromise can be regarded as blasphemous or somehow undermining the integrity of the faith, among various religions compromise opens feasible and necessary avenues for faith to operate as a positive force, without necessarily undermining each religion discretely.

Fundamental to any reconciliation in politicized religious conflicts, therefore, is a commitment to openness over closedness to the moral imperatives common to all faiths within in a globalized world. Parallel claims to truth and salvation need not clash; people can operate side by side in a system of mutual respect without necessarily believing the same thing. The fault line lies between religions that accept their differences on claims to fundamental truth and those who allow these differences to consume them, causing their identity to be as much, if not more, about what they do not, rather than what they do, believe.

As Tony Blair recently commented during his first visit to the Faith and Globalization seminar at Yale, there are essential steps we need to take in order to maximize the positive role faith can play in a globalized world.

First, despite the exclusivity of faiths, we must define a space of common values in which to interact; universal claims to social justice and the “do unto others…” creed are not bad starts. Second, we must have a frank debate about the proper public role of faith groups in politics; there is a right for faith to speak and be heard, but not to dictate. Third, we must create and engage in active programs to understand “the other.” One must need to be involved with others without fearing it somehow threatens their own faith.

Fourth, we must acknowledge our own limitations in fully understanding God. It is through this process that we gain the humility that leads to respect of others and other religions. Fifth, we must actively utilize the power of faith to mobilize people for the common good, through groups such as the Red Cross, the Red Crescent or Islamic Relief, Hindu Aid and SEWA International, World Jewish Relief and Khalsa Aid.

Sixth, we must get people to understand religion as a dialectical process of evolution rather than a set of ossified dogmas and traditions. Religion ought not to be stuck in time, but rather, flowing with time, reason and knowledge. It ought to be informed by science and technology and not antagonistic toward it, as well as driving those discoveries toward practical humanitarian concerns and their ethical implementation.

And, last, faith is more likely to be a positive force if values are not confused with explicit policies. What faith can do is to give values by which to approach decision-making; it alone cannot make the right decision for you. One must distinguish, therefore, through dialogue, exactly what faith can and cannot do in certain contexts.

As we move forward toward an increasingly global community, it is imperative that we keep faith in the forefront of our discussion. It’s only through active work toward cooperation, understanding and openness that this next century might undo the injustices of the past — in the name of religious rather than secular ideologies.


  • 109

    Oh my goodness this is appalling. Because faith is definitely a good judge of how to act justly. Because people must have faith to respect others. Because faith, not empathy or humanism, motivates people to do good.

    Seriously. You can “do unto others” if there is a god, you can “do unto others” if there isn’t. It’s a secular teaching. Religion as a political crutch is worse than meaningless. It relies on faith; precisely because it relies on faith instead of reason, it is no good at filtering out “good” positions from “bad” ones. Even worse, if faith is permitted to take authority, it might supersede reasoned arguments.

    There is no doctrine of absolute truth in secular ideologies; therefore, they are allowed to change and improve. The bottom line is, it is hard to change an ideology that carries a doctrine of absolute truth. Regardless if different religious groups can work with each other, they will still think themselves the “one right religion,” and they will think their in-group is superior. You say that parallel claims need not clash; they can’t help it. They contain statements that cannot mutually be true. The fact remains that if you believe your religion is right, you also believe that other religions are wrong.

    I hope to high infinity that the future of the world is not decided on unchangeable ideologies. If we can find common ground, it will be on our mutual empathy and mutual compassion, and no faith is required to love your fellow man. So then, what is faith required for? A guide to what is moral? History is not on your side. And, as I’m sure you know, religious texts today are the same as they were then.

    What is common among religions that isn’t secular?

    I, for one, will not have an arbitrary faith law the arbiter of justice and good.

  • joe29sb

    This op-ed is deeply troubling. It is impressive, however, that Tony Blair has been able to transplant clones of his brain into three Yale students. Unlike Blair in previous interviews (, the authors don’t explicitly call for Abrahamic religions to unite to fight non-believers. Although, they don’t really acknowledge the possibility of secular ideologies/governments beyond Nazis, etc. I think the previous commenter basically addressed the absurd premise that secularism is incapable of being moral. I just wonder whether the authors think that arbitrary faith in the usual Judeo-Christian-w/e monotheistic god is requisite for being a full member of society. I have no problem working with (usually very nice) religious people for the common good; some of the best examples of charitable organizations are religious. I just don’t want to live in a society where superstition reigns supreme.

  • Rek

    The authors entirely miss the point. For one, religious conflict in the Third World may be a rising problem, but such things are increasingly irrelevant in the secular, civilized world. America is alone among First World nations in high religiosity, but roughly half of Americans are at most only nominally religious. (I find it difficult to believe someone is meaningfully Christian if they can’t even name the four Gospels–about half of Americans cannot–let alone recite key provisions of their professed [Protestant] theology, like salvation by faith alone.)

    I’m willing to admit that we can use religion to help promote justice and peace, but only when focusing and promoting fundamentally secular values at the perhaps subtle expense of passionate orthodoxy (in re: the divisive and problematic–to put it nicely–tenets of any given faith). From an empirical standpoint, I just don’t see the evidence for arguing that faith will define 21st Century politics, and from a normative one, I don’t see why we should or how we could forget that the values we are promoting in “interfaith” dialog are fundamentally and inherently secular. Liberalism and constitutionalism are as much “secular ideologies” as “fascism, communism, Nazism, to name a few”.

    In short, the authors’ inane exercise in intellectual posturing could charitably be said to argue for a sort of global civic religion (cf. Ancient Rome, Tocqueville, and Lincoln) that they are choosing to associate (rather unfortunately) with conventional religion at the expense of the secular values they are actually espousing. I’m all for global discourse about the nature of peace and cooperation, but let’s be serious about it. The needless and counterproductive swipes at secularism and atheism are not good openers to a serious conversation.

  • TaylorJ

    I believe the authors have their point entirely backward. Faiths are uniting globally through shared secular interests. All religions have secular parts; for example, “Do unto others…” requires no ‘faith’ to perform.

    Followers of different faiths are not able to truly unite and work together, unless they drop some of the more dogmatic rules of their religion. Each of the three Abrahamic religions has a statement saying that non-believers are lesser humans/should be killed/are enemies/etc. But when faiths work together, they ignore this rule and try to work for the common global good. They unite through shared beliefs. One happens to be the belief in a “God.” The vast majority of other uniting beliefs between them are decidedly secular ones (“do unto others…”).

    Thus, I am led to question how secularism is seen as an evil force, if it is the underlying thread and support system for the current religion-uniting trend. Why do people like Tony Blair and those who reference him continue to urge uniting against secularists, if they are actually fighting for the same philanthropic harmony that most interfaith projects are?

    Religion is not the solution. Secularism, which is part of religion and beyond, is the system that is truly at work here.

  • penny_lane

    Your arguments clash quite a bit, in a way I don’t can be easily resolved.

    First of all, I am troubled by your unsupported suggestion that secular ideologies do more harm than good. I think you’re using too broad a term to define the particular ideologies that caused conflict in the 20th century. If we were to get more specific, we’d realize that you’re really just talking about political ideologies, and very extreme ones at that. What about other less political and more social ideologies but still secular, like humanism or feminism, which have a few central tenets to which everyone adheres, but for the most part are subject to a lot of individual interpretation?

    Second of all, your seven points are a little ridiculous. You’re coming at it from a very democratic, separation-of-church-and-state perspective (which are, by the way POLITICAL ideologies, just as much as fascism and communism). That may work to some extent in the US and perhaps other “Western” countries (good luck getting the Beck/Palinites to follow you there), but what about states that have, say, Islamic governments and *like* it that way? Moreover, all your points are extremely liberal, and even minimally conservative members of all religions are going to balk at the suggestion that they admit that their faith isn’t somehow more enlightening than all others, or that the religious text they have been taught is the word of God should take a backseat to scientific discovery. In fact, the whole sequence of points you make is dripping with quasi-imperialistic arrogance. “If only you thought more like me, everything would be all better!” History has shown time and time again that this sort of superior attitude rarely helps anyone. I suggest you all take a leaf out of whatever text you hold to be holy, and find some humility.

    And my final concern is that you are ignoring people who do not believe in God. You are assuming God exists, which is something you simply cannot prove. Moreover, atheists still have a right to a place in this world and a role in society, and you deny them that by suggesting that faith must be the vehicle towards constructing a functioning global society.

    I suspect it will be more valuable in terms of social justice and global harmony to find a way for secular and religious values to coexist. This would be very difficult, to be sure, and even face similar barriers to the ones I’ve named above (e.g., religion-based governments). But it seems a more compassionate, more respectful, and more culturally-sensitive goal than to force people to rethink what religion should mean to oneself and to others.

  • JackJ

    All the commenters have made cogent, even impassioned, arguments for secularism. What may be at the base of the authors’ argument, however, is fear that there has never been a secular government that has successfully integrated religious morals into its governmental structure. If the commenters could give examples of such secular successes the authors might reconsider their position. So then a challenge to those commenters: could we please have some examples of successful secular governments that used the universal truths to which you refer in their judicial and social systems.

  • joe29sb

    @JackJ, I think you would do well to read Rex’s comment. Many European countries are becoming quite secular, but I don’t think you would call them unsuccessful. America ostensibly has a secular government that is cognizant of the religious beliefs of its citizens; we could, though, still have the constitution and all of its ideals without a religious populace. And that would probably work out OK.

  • AshokB

    This article disgusts me. Without even touching the writing style, which intentionally or unintentionally obfuscates the authors’ arguments, I can give at least two reasons. First, the implication that secular ideals were responsible for Nazism. Can we please not have to invoke Godwin’s Law every time religion is discussed? Second is the implication that without faith we would not be able to mobilize people for the common good.

  • dac57

    109 (1st commenter):

    >”There is no doctrine of absolute truth in secular ideologies; therefore, they are allowed to change and improve.”

    – Would you please tell that to Kim Jong-il? He seems to have forgotten that self-evident truth.


    > “First, the implication that secular ideals were responsible for Nazism. Can we please not have to invoke Godwin’s Law every time religion is discussed?”

    – Does Godwin’s law apply if the implication refers to Maoist China, Stalin’s Russia, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the FRENCH system of genocide of 1.5 million in Algeria, or the execution of 500,000 people by the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Ethiopia?


    >”I suspect it will be more valuable in terms of social justice and global harmony to find a way for secular and religious values to coexist. This would be very difficult, to be sure, and even face similar barriers to the ones I’ve named above (e.g., religion-based governments)”

    – Considering “secular values” all over the world emerged out of religious values (except, perhaps in China, depending on your take on Confucianism), your pessimism seems a bit unwarranted.

    – For a concrete and relatively recent example, go to the reference room in SML (or your new dolled up CCL/Bass Library) and look up “Just War Theory” (big ups to Augustine & Aquinas – and Muhammad)

    I know every alumnus thinks the place falls to pieces after they leave, but this isn’t even funny.

  • penny_lane


    Saying that secular values emerged from religious values is a little too easy given the very long history of world religion (I’m suggesting a chicken/egg situation here, as well as pointing out that “good Christian values” tend to shift with the times), though I will grant that they are sometimes difficult to distinguish from one another. I see my views as more realistic than pessimistic, based on my observations of hot-button social issues in the United States, e.g., abortion and gay marriage. It would be pessimistic to say harmonious coexistence of secular and religious values is impossible; to say it will be difficult and take time to achieve is just…how it is. If you think it would be easy, by all means, enlighten me as to why.

    PS: Anyone see today’s NYT article on how atheists seem to know more about religion than religious folks?

  • dac57

    Penny –
    Martin Luther King Jr, Dorothy Day, Abraham Lincoln, Francis Collins (mapper of the human genome) – all used explicitly religious justifications and language in pursuit of causes that advanced “secular values” [liberal to boot].

    Outside of the USA, see: Wilberforce, Gandhi, Tutu, and Lama (Dalai)…or Maimonides (yes, I did see that NYT article)

  • penny_lane


    All those people are great and worked on important things, but you’re just continuing to go down your own road rather than addressing the issues I raised. Either that or we’re not talking about the same thing and just think we are.

  • dac57

    we are talking about the compatibility of secular and religious values (though I think such a distinction is false to begin with). What all of the above personages have shown is that they are not fundamentally or even typically at odds. You can bang on about abortion & gay marriage, but go up to the Divinity School and see how many of the students there are pro-choice and in favor of gay marriage and perhaps you’ll realize that ‘religion’ or ‘religious values’ are not defined by those people who shout the loudest. Even the Pope’s perspective on Catholic moral commitments to abstinence out of wedlock, the use of birth-control, etc is widely disputed within the Catholic church & its members.

    And its not a chicken or egg kind of thing, though it is strangely fashionable to invoke an evolutionary explanation for altruism and compassion these days. “Love your enemies” is not a chicken. It is most certainly an egg, my friend. But quite a big one, I’ll grant you. No king or secular leader or process of social evolution would ever advance a moral maxim so outrageous (or remarkable).

  • 109

    Here you go.

    Kim Jong Il is a dictator, but (as far as I understand, correct me if I’m wrong) not even he claims that only he holds the way to eternal salvation. Interestingly, North Korea is not on the list of secular continents. However, this is beside the point. I was a bit imprecise in my wording, so I modify my statement to say “there is no doctrine of truth in MOST secular ideologies. . . .”

    I hope you agree that there IS doctrine of absolute truth in most religious ideologies, and I ask that you not point at the handful of tyrannical secular ones and turn a blind eye to all the absolutist religious ones, hiding all the uncompromising religious views behind a few secular examples.

    Also, we all agree that there were great people who were deeply religious. But they were great because they advanced secular interests. Martin Luther King Jr. was great because he fought for civil rights, not because he preached and taught his religion. And if he were an atheist, he would not be any less great because of it. Furthermore, it is wildly inaccurate to say that secular values come from religious ones, and even if they did, so what? Chemistry came from alchemy, and we certainly don’t need alchemy anymore. But anyways, religion can produce values everyone considers good (do unto others), and it can also produce values most deem undesirable (everyone who is not in my religion is an infidel). It takes something more to tell these apart. If a value is truly beneficial to people, it will be on the basis of something other than religion.

    I object to the claim that no secular leader would say love thy enemies. This is just like saying there weren’t many great secular scientists. It’s because there simply aren’t many secular people in history who have held any kind of power. How hard is it for a Mormon or a Jew to be elected into public office, let alone a nontheist? But you cannot hope to make a statement such as “no secular person would say love thy enemies.” I do believe the devout are the ones who oppose the Cordoba project, and the secular are the ones who see Muslims as people with regular lives, just like everyone else. And we treat them as though we love and respect them just like all the rest of our fellow man, and we DON’T see them as enemies. It is you lot who make enemies of your fellow citizens.

    In my own experience as an atheist, I have no enemies. It is too hard to look at a person and see an enemy in him.

    If god told you to hate people, would you hate them? I think that even if some deity revealed itself to the world at large and told us to hate each other, we’d find that we can’t help but love each other regardless. It is not because of god, nor can any god change that.

  • 109

    A rule of thumb in mathematics is thus: suppose I have an argument P, which I claim proves statement Q. Suppose I find that a very similar proof, P’, can be used to prove a similar statement Q’. But Q’ is known to be false. Then, something is very likely amiss with P.

    How does this apply? Well, I use my faith to derive “do unto others” as a good value. But I can also use my faith to derive “infidels are a threat to my children.” This second statement is obviously no good. . . therefore, “I use my faith” is not a very valid reason.

    Or, more generally, if an argument can derive anything and everything, then it doesn’t mean very much at all.

  • penny_lane

    The argument “some people used their religious values to promote social justice therefore secular and religious values are the same. Yayyy!” doesn’t really work. Because then I can come back and make a list of atheists/non-theists who used secular values to promote social justice (Emma Goldman, Sigmund Freud and Thomas Jefferson off the top of my head…I’d include the Dalai Lama but I suspect we would both consider his values to be religious rather than secular) and point out that social justice can and probably would happen without religious values anyway given the human propensity for empathy. When religious people want social change, it’s usually pretty easy to find the right scripture to support it, not, as you suggest, because religious and secular values are the same, but because most religious values actually derive from values established over millennia that allow humans to live together in cooperative societies. And no, flippantly dismissing the evolutionary perspective isn’t enough to take it off the table–doing so is called reductio ad ridiculum and it’s a logical fallacy and so proves nothing. Research on the evolution of things like religion, empathy and altruism are really quite fascinating, and you should check it out.

    Nor does the argument, “Many religious people are really liberal!” work, because it doesn’t account for the fact that equally many are not. The people at the Yale Div School are a pretty self-selecting group. The conservative people who hate gay people and want to make abortion illegal are probably going to go somewhere else for their divinity degrees. The divergence and friction here is pretty well accounted for by the fact that for the most part, religious views/values tend to change along with secular values as cultures shift and develop. I’m wearing pants right now, for example, and I’m sure that not even 150 years ago someone would have condemned me to hell for this, as there are, of course, passages in the Bible about who can wear what kind of clothing. But no more, because social values have changed, and we can get around this problem by noting that I am wearing “women’s pants,” so it’s all okay. (No hell for me! Phew!) The trouble arises because while the general values of a society may change, the words of the scripture do not (though interpretations of scripture can, e.g., my pants example). And so then religious values (abstinence only until marriage!) don’t jibe with social values (sex is okay because now we have birth control and also lots of women have jobs so unwed moms can actually support their children!) and people start to get upset with each other. So no, it’s not as easy as you suggest for religious values and secular values to coexist, because culture is dynamic and the “word of God” is pretty static. I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way, because I really do think we CAN all just get along, but the disconnect to be surmounted is undeniable.

  • dac57

    Where to start –

    109 – What does it matter if the absolute truth purports to lead to salvation in the afterlife or in the here and now?? I would humbly suggest that notions of absolute truth regarding the here and now have done far greater harm than any notions of absolute truth regarding the afterlife – and such claims about the present would no doubt include those made by religious despots and villains.

    And I would never suggest that what made my list of great religious people great was their faith – the point was that religious values are not fundamentally opposed to secular values. It has nothing to do with a better or worse path – religious or secular – just that they are quite often paths to the same end.

    Let’s talk about enemies now – it is only the religious who make enemies? Again, what about Kim Jong-il, or Stalin, or Pol Pot, etc. etc. etc. Enmity is a feature of human existence, regardless of your perspective on it.

    And though you personally may claim to have no enemies, but life is not that simple for those less privileged than you and I. Too hard to look at a person and see an enemy? Tell that to a victim of the Janjaweed in Sudan. Could you with a straight face tell a former resident of East Berlin that the Stasi weren’t their enemies, or a Cambodian that the Khmer Rouge weren’t there enemies?

    But my point, again, was that though we must acknowledge ‘evil’ – not necessarily absolute evil but certainly unambiguous immorality – and also move beyond it, accepting that we must ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’. This is the broadly religious perspective – evil exists but it is to be confronted with compassion and love rather than vengeance. Again, surely something that only religious people can do – but it happens to have been originated by the leaders of different faith traditions (not to be confused with the golden rule – do unto others – which has had indeed had secular origins as well as religious, unsurprising given its fundamentally self-interested scope)…

  • dac57

    …Now – your wonderful mathematical rule of thumb – aside from the ridiculous phrasing (no one says, “I use my faith to do x” they say, “my faith in ___ leads be to believe that _____, therefore it is incumbent upon me to do _____”…and also, there are not degrees of validity. Nothing can be ‘not very valid’ it is either valid or invalid). But let’s see how else we can apply your rule…

    I use my “compassion for the destitute” (P) to justify my work at the soup kitchen on Thanksgiving (Q).

    I also use my “compassion for the destitute” (P) to justify kidnapping rich girls for ransoms which I then distribute to the poor (Q).

    Any idea or moral commitment worth having is usually also a potential source of bad behavior, if taken to extremes or not considered in light of other moral commitments. And, surprise surprise, all the world’s faith traditions place love of neighbor as a pre-eminent moral commitment. So any and all actions done in the name of any religion must always be undertaken with this primary commitment in mind. Of course, humans being imperfect, this often doesn’t happen. But the same applies for any potentially noble ideal – none are safe when considered purely on their own.

  • dac57

    Now on to Penny –

    Your point was that religious and secular values were incompatible. My point was that they are not. My point was NOT – only religious people have done good things, which seems to be what you’ve taken away.

    And just as many religious people are not liberal, so are many non-religious people!! You think all republicans are religious? Hardly. The point is, anytime you paint with a broad brush, you are doing a disservice to whatever you are trying to portray. Your arguments about religion consistently take it for granted that ALL religious people are homophobic fear mongers. We are not – just like all atheists aren’t self-indulgent, epicureans.

    And finally, you are right about evolution – i am very fascinated with the process of moral evolution that has taken place over time (and if you were wondering, I believe in Darwin’s theory of biological evolution as well). And yes, scripture is static. But interpretation of scripture is not and never has been. Have you ever heard of Eugene Robinson?? The Episcopalian Church is currently mired in a painful process of reminding itself that we understand scripture, though static, to mean different things in different times.

    Above all, what you have both ignored is that the religious perspective is essentially one of humility – both of what we can know and who we are. I don’t blame you for ignoring this, because many many religious people don’t express their faith in very humble ways. But the same is true for secular people. This phenomenon – arrogance and the willingness to impose your view on others – is simply not the exclusive property of religions. It is the property of humanity – and one we should all work together to guard against.

    At the end of the day, I agree with you entirely that we can all get along, and I appreciate that you end on that note. I hope that these types of discussions can some how facilitate that process.

  • penny_lane


    I’m curious as to what you mean when you say “religious values” or “religious perspective.” When I say it, I am referring to the values that a person who considers himself religious derives from his faith. And for many people that may well be humility (and loving their neighbors, and not judging others, etc.) But for just as many, the people you keep asking me to ignore, it’s not (e.g., Sarah Palin with her book banning and removing Plan-B from rape kits)…and then there are the few who beat gay people to death or fly airplanes into towers in the name of what God wants. I consider all these to fall onto the spectrum of “religious values.” You are wildly hyperbolizing when you say I consider all religious people to be “homophobic fear mongers,” because none of what I have written was intended to suggest any such thing. The only reason I keep bringing up those who are is a) because it’s a pretty good (if boringly obvious) example of religious and secular values clashing and b) because you keep trying to downplay their influence (which, if the burgeoning Tea Party is any indication, is large).

    I also feel a little sheepish because you seem to have misunderstood my original point, if you think I think religious and secular values are incompatible. That is a strong word, and if I used it, I should not have, and looking back, I see I should have addressed the use of such words in my last post. Words I know I have used are words like “friction” and “disconnect” to describe the current relationship between the secular and religious worlds. This means I think things can be smoothed over and connected. The word “incompatible” suggests the opposite of that, and in a very permanent way. An excellent example of this kind of friction is “[t]he Episcopalian Church [which] is currently mired in a painful process of reminding itself that we understand scripture, though static, to mean different things in different times.” The fact that you used the word painful there suggests that you do understand what I’m getting at: these kinds of disagreements can cause turmoil, but also there is always hope that post-turmoil, everyone can be stronger for it.

    I also really like your point that “…arrogance and the willingness to impose your view on others [are] simply not the exclusive property of religions. It is the property of humanity – and one we should all work together to guard against.” This arrogance is exactly the attitude I found truly despicable about this column (oh yeah! there *is* a column up there!) in the first place.

    I’m also getting the sense that, despite that we rationally both know that making assumptions about what religious people/atheists think/feel is silly, we’ve both done it a little bit, and I think that’s the kind of thing we should all work on getting over. And these discussions definitely do help with that.

  • dac57

    Penny, I feel a catharsis coming on.

    Your point about the atrocities commtted in the name of religion is entirely correct. This is the shame of all people of faith, as well as those of the particular faith involved. But, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, people of no religious faith are motivated to commit atrocities as well (again, above lists). So you are right to condemn those who persecute others because of their understanding of religion. But this condemnation must extend to those who are willing to impose their beliefs on others – and this includes the secular and the religious, Religion is not the problem – it is humanity’s eagerness to universalize their ideas, whether they refer to the divine, humanity, or politics.

    This is, of course, stating the obvious. But so it goes. Nice to ‘talk’ with you, Penny.

  • 109

    dac57: let me clarify a few things. I never said that claims to absolute truth were better when secular. I never said such a thing. I said that most secular ideals DO NOT HAVE such claims, because just like you said, such claims do much harm. Religions usually make these claims.

    Nor did I say that only religious people make enemies. People can make enemies, secular or religious. But I do say that secular people can love everyone as well, even people whom most would consider to be their enemies. You say that love the sinner, hate the sin is a “broadly religious perspective – evil exists but it is to be confronted with compassion and love rather than vengeance.” I say this is not true. Many religions place their sinners in the worst kinds of eternal torment, many condone violence against perceived sinners, and loving people you perceive as sinners is in no way universal to religion.

    You also say it is “surely something that only religious people can do;” I take great offense to this. You are telling a great many people that they are not capable of the same kind of love and forgiveness simply due to lack of faith; this is not true. I don’t hold grudges any worse than you do, and I’m no slower to forgive than you are, and I love people just as much as you, and no god tells me to love people. I cannot believe you are making such absolute judgments about people you’ve never met, about their capacity to love and forgive.

    Of course no one says “I use my faith to do X.” And I meant “invalid” when I say “not very valid,” I was just trying to sound less harsh. However, what you said was the exact same thing as what I said, worded a bit differently, and it came down to faith –> actions. Now about your example, the conclusion “I kidnap rich people for ransom and give it to the poor” is an invalid conclusion, therefore, “I feel compassion for the destitute” is probably flawed somehow. Actually, it is flawed as a premise, because it considers the destitute to the EXCLUSION of others.

    I must then conclude that it is not a good premise to base decisions on. But it sounds like a good premise. I must ask myself, what is wrong with it? And I conclude that I need to include other people as well, and then I modify it to say “compassion for my fellow man.” This would then rule out things like kidnapping people, while still supporting things like humanitarian efforts.

  • 109

    Also wanted to comment on your statement “arrogance and the willingness to impose your view on others [are] simply not the exclusive property of religions. It is the property of humanity – and one we should all work together to guard against.” I think penny_lane already pointed it out. I wholeheartedly agree with this, this fundamental ideal of not imposing your view on others.

    I should be very upset if theists together imposed theism on the world and made it central to contemporary politics. It’s that simple.

  • SacredHeartOnline

    I think everyone’s main religion should be focused on just solely being a good person and doing right things in the world. Religions are just examples of how people should think and act.

    [pressure washers][1]

    [1]: “pressure washers”

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