Religion and Extremism are NOT the same thing...read and learn

Religion and Extremism are NOT the same thing…read and learn

In the last few decades critics of religion have gained voice, expressing a willingness to see it disappear. I will set out to show in this article that religion is not, contrary to what an article here on Angry Italian proclaimed, disappearing, and that those who criticize and want to see it gone fail to understand both religion and the problem they’re trying to get at. It’s also worth noting that I will be speaking mainly about the Abrahamic religions, for it is in these that I specialise.

Firstly, let’s quickly get the numbers out of the way and set some facts straight: religion is not disappearing. It just isn’t. While it can be claimed that the European continent is currently undergoing a crisis of faith (and even then, only 20% of Europeans claim to be either agnostic or atheist), this is clearly not the case in the rest of the world. In Russia, between 1998 and 2008 there was an incredible rise in people returning to Orthodox Christianity. In the Americas, a vast majority of the population still adhere to one form of Christianity or another. In Africa, Christianity and Islam, as well as Judaism, are still extremely prominent. In Asia, only Far Eastern countries, such as China and Japan, seem to show quite a substantial lack of religiosity, while the rest of the continent still adhere to a panoply of different religions. I invite readers to verify the latest statistics on the Pew Research Centre and EU websites. Of course, it can be said that people actively practising religion has decreased, but this shouldn’t be taken as indicative of the disappearance of religion. People may not practice, but their beliefs still shape their lives.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s focus on the criticism voiced by critics of religion, who believe that the quicker we get rid of it, the better. It is true that much evil had been done in the name of religion, i.e. organised faith, a manmade phenomenon. From the persecution of Christians and Jews by the Pagans, to the Crusades, the Inquisition and the witch-hunts, the European wars of religion and forced conversions. More recently we have seen this malady once again take hold in the Middle East, with the rise of Islamic extremism and the resulting War on Terror (which has, here and there, religious undertones). ISIS is but the most recent (and one of the most brutal, by modern standards) manifestation of, what some may call, the sickness of religion.

So, some may ask, how can I, after writing what I did above, still support religion? Am I a heartless [insert whatever foul name you wish to use] that doesn’t care for those who suffer? On the contrary, I still support religion because what I wrote above is not a criticism of religion, but rather a criticism of extremism. And this is the point we must all focus on: one cannot confuse religion and extremism…the two are not the same thing.

Cross and Bible [Source: Michal's Flickr; http://bit.ly/1onGZHn]

Cross and Bible [Source: Michal’s Flickr; http://bit.ly/1onGZHn]

Extremism in Islam for us in the West has become something easy to understand. Nowadays it’s the only thing the media feeds us, and once in a while we’re served a side dish in the form of one or two members of the Ummah telling us that ISIS and Al-Qaeda does not represent Islam (which it doesn’t…but that’s a topic for another article). But there is also extremism in Christianity, and I as a Christian am the first to point it out and criticize it. When critics of Christianity as a religion, however, point out the absurd attitudes of certain American Christian communities, paedophilia in the Catholic Church and the rampant corruption in the Orthodox Church, and with this extremism and corruption paint the whole of Christianity with the same brush, then I have a problem…because it’s wrong, it’s illogical…and it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous because those who do it are smudging the image of a religion and of those who adhere to it based on the actions of a particular faction and based on their own ignorance of the beliefs of this religion. The danger here is that this idea, which I have shown is wrong, spreads and is adopted by others who equally will not go through the trouble of properly thinking about the issue. The result: situations such as the rampant Islamophobia now gripping the West.

But, is the mere existence of extremism enough for us to do away with religion? I could turn around and ask the reader if the possibility of contracting STD’s is also enough to deter them from sexual intercourse…or if the possibility of drowning is enough for them to protest against the existence of water . Both of these suggestions are absurd, indeed just as absurd as wanting to do away with religion because of the existence of extremism.

I hate to disappoint you all, but even if you get rid of religion, people will continue to kill and oppress each other and extremism will continue to exist…because the truth is as follows: so long as the human mind is free to think and has the capacity to comprehend, there will always be a potential for extreme thoughts. Any train of thought, any ideology, has the potential for extremism…the problem doesn’t lie with religion, the problem lies with human beings.

Extremism even exists in the atheist sphere, something that is not often talked about…yes, atheist extremism this is a thing. It manifests itself in those individuals who, not believing in the existence of God, view themselves as ‘rationally’ superior to all theists and will discriminate against them and disrespect them for holding their beliefs. This extremism, in my eyes, is just as dangerous as fundamentalist Christianity and Islam, for it is unconducive to peaceful coexistence and social wellbeing.

So, how do we solve the problem? We clamp down on extremism, in whichever form it manifests itself. One of the ways we can do this is through learning and dialogue: learn about each other’s religions, understand each other’s thoughts, and then discuss them in a civilized manner, and through it reach a common middle ground. Stop listening to the opinions of the uninformed corporate media, pick up a book, and read, and I can assure you that your understanding of religion will change completely.

Ultimately, religion is not going anywhere…so deal with it.

We must learn to live together as one human race; The Earth [Source: from Esparta Palma's flickr; http://bit.ly/1vEeOoj]

We must learn to live together as one human race; The Earth [Source: from Esparta Palma’s flickr; http://bit.ly/1vEeOoj]