Religious Conflict and Interfaithism

By Wilks, Colin | Nebula, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Religious Conflict and Interfaithism


Wilks, Colin, Nebula


The Interfaith Movement aims to diminish the potential for inter-religious conflict in the modern world by promoting 'interfaith understanding'. Its effectiveness as a movement is however limited because the method it employs for promoting inter-religious harmony can only be employed at the risk of augmenting the potential for infra-religious disharmony within the very religions it is employed to inter-religiously harmonise.

Religion has been with us since we first became human, and despite the 'God-busting' efforts of evangelical atheists' such as Richard Dawkins' it is will remain with us while ever the uniquely human needs to which it uniquely ministers remain with us.

The uniquely human needs to which religion uniquely ministers stem from the fact that' as humans' we have been alienated from the natural world of instinctual purposes in which non-human animals exist' and' as a consequence' have had to infuse our extra-instinctual existences with extra-instinctual purposes and meaning. However' while religion emerged in human history as a solution to the uniquely human problem of being human, other uniquely human problems emerged in the wake of the solution it provided, and the most obvious of these was the problem of inter-religious conflict.

The fact that different groups of humans developed different religious solutions to the uniquely human problem of being human did not immediately result in what might be termed 'genuine inter-religious conflict'. There were no doubt conflicts from the very outset between different groups of humans who believed in different gods (or spirits), but they were not conflicts about the different gods the different groups believed in. While both sides in such conflicts may have called upon their gods to aide them in their conflict with the other, they were merely pseudo inter-religious conflicts because it was not the other's religious beliefs that were at issue. (1)

It was not until certain groups of humans started believing that their gods--or more to the point their God--was the only God that the potential for genuine inter-religious conflict emerged in human history; and, as my emphasis on 'God' singular is intended to highlight, it was the emergence of monotheism that triggered the emergence of genuine inter-religious conflict. But it was not the initial and insular Judaic form of monotheism that triggered it; it was the subsequent and all-embracing Christian and Islamic forms that emerged from the Judaic form, for where the Jews believed the one true God was their God and theirs alone, the Christians and Muslims believed the one true God was everyone's God, and, thus, the God that everyone should believe in.

To complicate matters, however, the Christian and Islamic monotheists both believed that their own respective conception of the one true God was the one true conception of the one true God and, thus, the one true conception that everyone should believe in.

To the limited extent it ever actually occurs, genuine inter-religious conflict occurs not simply because one (or both) of the conflicting parties believes that what the other believes is wrong, but because one (or both) of the parties believes it (or they) have a religious duty to correct the error of the other's ways.

There are various methods by means of which the more tolerant and peace-loving followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (which are arguably the world's most conflict-prone religions) have sought to diminish the potential for inter-religious conflict between their less tolerant and less peace-loving counterparts. Most of these methods have encouraged mutual toleration by encouraging believers to believe that it is only by the grace of God that they themselves are believers: from the Christian perspective 'there but for the grace of God go I'; from the Muslim perspective 'It is not for any soul to believe save for the permission of Allah' (Qur'an 10:99-100), and, hence, there should be 'no compulsion in religion' (Qur'an 2:256). …

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