Religious Differences in Our Global Village

When I first learned of the idea of a “global village,” I remember having a mental picture of a New England-style village expanded out to cover the whole world. It sounded kind of warm and cozy, with different people amiably waving to their neighbors as they passed by.

Now that technology has brought us the real version of that global village, my mental image of the place has changed somewhat. With all the conflicts – both verbal and armed – going on between so many different groups, the world seems more like Baghdad circa 2004. So many people seem so angry at those who are different from them.

This seems particularly true where religion is concerned. Many of today’s conflicts are rooted in religious differences. For many, it apparently is not enough to simply believe in their religion; they seem compelled by their beliefs to repel and attack believers in other, different religions.

And the differences aren’t just between the major religions like Islam, Judaism and Christianity. They’re between distinct sects, like Sunnis and Shiites and Catholics and Protestants. The results of these clashes all too often turn bloody. And they raise questions. Is religious strife going to be a permanent part of our global village? If not, how do we get beyond the current conflicts?

In a recent essay in the New York Times, the Dalai Lama addressed this issue. He started by relating his thoughts as a boy, and how they’ve changed over time:

When I was a boy in Tibet, I felt that my own Buddhist religion must be the best — and that other faiths were somehow inferior. Now I see how naïve I was, and how dangerous the extremes of religious intolerance can be today.

He talked about the pressures our global village puts on religions and cultures, as people behave intolerantly towards those different than themselves:

Such tensions are likely to increase as the world becomes more interconnected and cultures, peoples and religions become ever more entwined. The pressure this creates tests more than our tolerance — it demands that we promote peaceful coexistence and understanding across boundaries.

The rest of his essay addressed finding an alternative to intolerance and conflict:

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions.

He concluded by noting the importance of focusing on what we have in common rather than how we differ:

Finding common ground among faiths can help us bridge needless divides at a time when unified action is more crucial than ever. As a species, we must embrace the oneness of humanity as we face global issues like pandemics, economic crises and ecological disaster. At that scale, our response must be as one.

Harmony among the major faiths has become an essential ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers — it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

This essay reminded me of a point made by Walter Truett Anderson in his book “Reality Isn’t What It Used to Be”:

The postmodern condition is not an artistic movement or a cultural fad or an intellectual theory — although it produces all of those and is in some ways defined by them. It is what inevitably happens as people everywhere begin to see that there are many beliefs, many kinds of belief, many ways of believing. Postmodernism is globalism; it is the half-discovered shape of the one unity that transcends all our differences.

Perhaps, in time, we will learn to peacefully coexist with those of different religious beliefs -much as people do in modern New England villages, where they amiably wave to their neighbors as they pass on their way to their respective places of worship.

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About Dave Higgins

I've been interested in current events since at least the mid 1960's, and in ideas from modern science since the early 1990's. My website Quantum Age, which has been online since 1996, presents a basic framework for applying ideas from modern science to today's world. In this blog I discuss current events in the context of that framework.
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2 Responses to Religious Differences in Our Global Village

  1. mythicsushi says:

    I agree that religions should try to promote peaceful exchanges between themselves.

    It’s somewhat difficult, however, when violence conducted with God’s blessing against supposedly immoral unbelievers is part of Christianity and Islam’s historical tradition. If God did it, then it would seem to become a lot more acceptable for followers of that God to do it.

  2. qagedave says:

    You raise an excellent point. I think a possible answer to it can be found in something said by two religious men – a priest and a rabbi – in the PBS Frontline episode “Faith & Doubt at Ground Zero”:

    Monsignor LORENZO ALBACETE, Catholic Priest:

    From the first moment I looked into that horror on September 11th, into that fireball, into that explosion of horror, I knew it. I knew it before anything was said about those who did it or why. I recognize an old companion. I recognize religion.

    Look, I am a priest for over 30 years. Religion is my life. It’s my vocation. It’s my existence. I’ll give my life for it. I hope to have the courage. Therefore, I know it. And I know and recognize that day that the same force, energy, sense, instinct, whatever, passion – because religion can be a passion – the same passion that motivates religious people to do great things is the same one that that day brought all that destruction.

    When they said that the people who did it did it in the name of God, I was not in the slightest bit surprised. It only confirmed what I knew. I recognize it. I recognize this thirst, this demand for the absolute, because if you don’t – if you don’t hang onto the unchanging, to the absolute, to that which cannot disappear, you might disappear. I recognize this thirst for the never-ending, the permanent, the oneness of all things, this intolerance or fear of diversity, that which is different. These are characteristics of religion.

    And I knew that that force could take you to do great things, but I knew that there was no greater and no more destructive force on the surface of this earth than the religious passion.

    Rabbi BRAD HIRSCHFIELD:

    You can get so drunk on God that you don’t see anything else. And I didn’t. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in a messianic vision of how the world could be. And I know it’s easy because I did it.

    I spent a part of my life, between the ages of 17 and 21, living off and on in the city of Hebron. Hebron is traditionally understood by rabbinic tradition as one of the four holiest cities in the land of Israel. It’s the burial place of the matriarchs and the patriarchs, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Sarah and Rebecca and Leah. And the site where they are buried has traded between being a mosque and a church many times in the last 1,800 years.

    And for Jews to be able to go back to that place where the founding fathers and mothers are buried is unbelievable. To be able, at the age of 18 or 19, to say, “This is where I belong” after thousands of years of exile is intoxicating. You believe anything is possible.

    I really don’t remember, until it got so out of control that people I knew committed murder – I don’t think that I thought for a minute about the impact of my beliefs on other human beings who didn’t share them. Other people were just wrong.

    It’s amazing how good religion is at mobilizing people to do awful, murderous things. There is this dark side to it, and anyone who loves religious experience, including me, better begin to own there is a serious shadow side to this thing.

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