Redrawing the lines

by Elias Blum

Richard Dawkins has accused moderate, ‘nice’ religious folks of aiding and abetting fundamentalism by giving an acceptable outward face to religious modes of thought that are, as he sees it, necessarily irrational and obscure.

Aside from the fact that Dawkins does not seem to understand religion (because he fails to distinguish between fact-claims and wisdom-claims, or between poetry and prose, or between dogma and practice), I struggle with this argument. There is more than a grain of truth in it. When I look at what is going on in the middle east, with the rise of IS and the bombing in Gaza, I wonder how on earth any sane, rational, caring person could have anything to do with religion of any sort. All too often, religion seems to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

But then, on the other hand, I see the real and obvious good done by people who are motivated by their faith. On the other side of Islamic power-crazy fundamentalists shooting and looting their way through Iraq, stand non-violent Christian Peacemaker Teams working silently and unobtrusively amongst people in Iraqi Kurdistan, trying to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. Despite all those who have a religion of domination, violence, power, ignorance and hatred, there are others with a religion of love, compassion, care and healing.

It is simplistic and overly reductionist to say that religion as a whole, from its most benign to its most dangerous manifestations, is wholly good or bad. Like politics or art, it is a mixed bag. The real line is not between religion and non-religion, or even between Christianity and Islam, but between fundamentalism  and non-fundamentalism. Non-fundamentalists, whether religious or not, have a common cause against fundamentalists. Rationality and love are allies against the curse of fundamentalism.

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