One day I came across this on a bumper sticker in Walmart parking lot: and loved it. I remember wanting to leave the person a note for getting what it means to accept a person regardless of their beliefs. I started seeing it a lot so it really gave me a hope that I wasn’t alone in my thinking. The message it purveys is nearly identical to humanism’s with the exception, of course, that religion is ok. The criticism’s of religion are still valid and we stand by the position that the world would be in much better shape if everywhere knew it’s dangers. However, we can accept the person and still reject the belief.
Why is religion so personal?
Without diving too deep into the psychology of religion here is a list of common reasons why someone might be religious:
- Coping: Coping with life and death.
- Existential: Fulfilling spiritual needs.
- Identity: Letting religious belief be part of who you are as a person.
- Social: Belonging to a community that loves and supports it’s members.
- Morality: Providing a morale framework by which to live.
A person’s entire life my rest on embracing a particular religion, it becomes a part of who they are. When religion spends so long comforting and alleviating fear there is no doubt as to why when a person’s religion is under attack they begin to erect psychological defence mechanisms. This is also why other religions can be so hard to understand. Once a person’s religion becomes a foundation of their psychological well being it can be difficult to see how another person’s religion, especially one a lot different, can be as good as your own. When one considers the human condition it easy to see why there is so much conflict between different beliefs. Even unbelievers who reject religion altogether run a very real danger of promoting conflict. The aggressive and negative attacking of religion that has been trendy in recent years has really helped open up discussion of the dangers of religion but this new kind of atheism, as Paul Kurtz pointed out, has some hidden dangers:
The New Atheists, in my view, have made an important contribution to the contemporary cultural scene because they have opened religious claims to public examination…What I object to are the militant atheists who are narrow-minded about religious persons and will have nothing to do with agnostics, skeptics, or those who are indifferent to religion, dismissing them as cowardly.”
“While I certainly don’t believe that we ought to abandon our criticism of religious fanaticism or allow religious doctrine to dictate public policy, the future of the secular humanist and scientific rationalist movements depends upon appealing to a wider base of support”
Throw in the current state of civilization and violence seems inevitable. The coexist about page sums of the problem of people of different religions not understanding each other nicely:
Crisis of Understanding
Coexist was created to address the crisis of understanding that tears at the social fabric of societies around the world. Globalization has outpaced our understanding of one another, creating divisions that plague communities with prejudice, hate and violence.
These divides create instability that affects every facet of life, reducing global economic output, health, education, and progress in arts and science. In our interconnected world, a lack of social cohesion generates shock waves that damage not only the immediate region, but produce real consequences for the economy and job opportunities in communities on the other side of the world.
Understanding Changes Everything
Coexist is on a mission to advance social cohesion through education and innovation.
Coexist works at the faultlines of conflicting cultural identities to to strengthen the bond that holds a society together through a sustainable model of people working and learning together. This generates social cohesion that reduces prejudice, hate and violence and prevents conflict from emerging again. (source)
The situation with hatred, confusion and the resulting violence between beliefs can be fixed, in part, by separating the belief and the person. The belief doesn’t make that person who they are. There is growing research that we are born inherently good:
- Neural and cognitive characteristics of extraordinary altruists
- Social evaluation by preverbal infants
- The Age of Empathy
- Why We Cooperate
It goes without saying that some people are also born inherently bad and upbringing and circumstances can dramatically alter a person’s personality for better or for worse as well. However, what all this research shows us is that religion doesn’t enter into whether or not a person is worthy of our love and caring. It becomes easy to separate the person from the belief once we know that their good nature is natural. Once we see their differing beliefs are a result of their personal circumstances we can understand that in the same circumstances we may have ended up with the same beliefs. Then we can and should accept a person regardless of their beliefs and we take a step towards making the world a better place.