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Radicalism – no single religion’s burden October 15, 2010

Posted by laïcité in Religion.
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Today I chanced upon a quiz in the New York Times on the topic of religion. It’s no ordinary quiz. It forces us to rethink our preconceptions of the main religions that we encounter around us and in the news. Whether or not we’d like to admit it, most of us form a certain stereotypical impression of different religions. We tend to attribute certain traits to different religions, and such labelling of certain religions as “good” or “bad” are also conveniently tainted by one’s own religious preferences. Especially in the age of islamophobia, plenty of other religionists are quick to point their fingers at Islam for encouraging extremism and violence, without themselves taking a look at their own religion’s scriptures.

By no means am I defending one religion over another, or accusing any one religion of being especially guilty of promoting radicalism. The truth is that any holy book from any religion can be interpreted in as peaceful, or as violent as one wishes. Instead of just passing off certain individuals as simply “misinterpreting” the holy texts, religious leaders and followers have to first come to terms with accepting just how easily and dangerously their text can be interpreted. And as long as such verses remain in holy scripture, who can blame a devout follower for taking the text too literally? Whose fault is it, when an enthusiastic follower decides to kill unbelievers, or stone his daughter, or endorse acts of terror in the name of religion, if not the religion itself?

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The radical Islam that we see today is no worse than the radical Christianity that fueled the atrocities committed in the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, which is in turn no more forgivable than Zionist or Hindu motivated political violence.

While it may be true that it takes a certain personal or political motivation to cause an individual to interpret religious text in an extreme way, the question remains: why keep such inflammatory verses at all? Why make it so easy for extremists to justify their cause? Is it due to the blissful ignorance of the nasty parts of one’s own religion? Is the the fear of questioning how something so cruel and violent can be part of a supposedly peaceful faith? Is it the silent endorsement of the truth of such verses, whilst still maintaining a veil of tolerence necessary for living in a multi religious world? Is the comfort of cognitive dissonance really worth the number of lives destroyed by religious extremism?

If any new religion or philosophy today came up with a manifesto containing half the amount of violence glorification as that in the holy texts of Christianity, Islam and Judiasm, its leader would never be able to get away with the simplistic explanation that the verses were meant to be taken metaphorically. There is no reason why any religion should be spared of taking responsibility for providing the rationale for radicalism and extremism. “Kill all unbelievers! P.S. don’t take that literally” Just doesn’t cut it.

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