Harsh political cartoons, late night talk show hosts, and plenty of social media posts too often put religious people in the typical category of ignorant, vindictive, and violent people. Nothing new there. For instance, reflecting on the secular culture’s reaction to suicide bombings in the Middle East, I think one of the real roadblocks to solving this tragedy is the loss of the notion that religion actually matters.
There is no defense of followers of Islam – or any other religion – who kill innocent people. But before we can attempt to understand the driving force of any religious idea, we have to first understand that for millions of people around the globe, religion actually matters.
Religious faith has slowly lost its hold on Americans, much the way it did in Europe a century ago, but there was a time in the world when religion was the primary direction for life. Wars were fought over it, people were imprisoned for breaking its laws, and faith impacted history.
Yes, there have always been corrupt rulers, Popes, priests, and pastors who used religion like a tool to abuse power. But for the most part, religious played a critical role in the development of law, learning, medicine, and science. As scholar Rodney Stark points out in his book, “The Victory of Reason,” Christianity played a critical role in the development of Western ideals of freedom, capitalism, and human rights.
But today, Europe’s great cathedrals stand as an empty testimony to people who have assumed the role of dieties themselves, and have no greater entity for which to reach out. As a result, Europeans have lost any sense that religion has any meaning, still speaks to people, or matters at all.
America is moving down that same road. There must be some way we can reach out to the culture and convince them that regardless of their own personal values or biases, religion still matters to millions of people, and that’s the key to understanding many of the conflicts around the world, from abortion rights in the U.S., slavery in Africa, and suicide bombing in the Middle East.
The door was opened by the notion of “tolerance.” In today’s culture of tolerance, everything is equal. No idea, either religious or non-religious, can be better than another. Therefore, rational thought, evaluation, and investigation cannot be used in matters of personal belief. It simply doesn’t matter anymore. The problem with that thinking is that it paved the way for a host of tragic events. Because with that argument, what’s the difference between believing that Jesus came to seek and save those which were lost, and the bizarre idea that another god has called us to kill innocent children?
Religion matters. It’s mattered for thousands of years, and it matters now. In our ignorance, we can continue to criticize those of religious faith. But in my experience, no one has ever ever changed their belief because they were humiliated into it.
Only when we can convince the greater culture that faith matters, can we begin to reach out to millions around the world and begin to understand each other.