Religion—A Taboo Subject?
“THERE are two subjects I never discuss: religion and politics!” That is a frequent response when Jehovah’s Witnesses speak to others about the Bible. And the viewpoint is understandable.
When people debate politics, tempers may flare and quarreling ensue. Many see through hollow promises and realize that politicians often seek only power, fame, and money. Unhappily, political differences at times lead to violence.
‘But,’ you may reason, ‘is not the same true of religion? Has not religious fervor ignited many present-day conflicts?’ In Northern Ireland, Roman Catholics and Protestants were long pitted against one another. In the Balkans, members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholics, and others vie for territory. The result? Atrocities and continued ill will.
Faced with the threat of death, many attempt to conceal their personal beliefs and those of their families. In Africa, centuries of religious hostility between people of Christendom and adherents of other foreign and also ethnic religions prompted parents to give their children two names that provided a measure of protection, a custom that persists today. Thus, a young boy can pass himself off either as a church member or as professing another religion by using one name but not the other. When a person’s religious beliefs can cost him his life, it is little wonder that he hesitates to discuss religion openly.
To others, religion is a taboo subject even when their lives are not threatened. They fear that talking over their beliefs with someone of a different faith will lead to a pointless argument. Still others hold that all religion is good. As long as what a person believes satisfies him, they say, talking about the differences is a futile exercise.
Even serious students of the nature of religion disagree among themselves. In its article “The Study and Classification of Religions,” The New Encyclopædia Britannica acknowledges: “Rarely . . . has there been unanimity among scholars about the nature of [religion] . . . Thus, the subject has, throughout its history, contained elements of controversy.”
One dictionary defines religion as “the expression of man’s belief in and reverence for a superhuman power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe.” This would call for religion’s playing an important role in life. Indeed, religion has been a universal factor in framing human history. “There has been no society,” notes the Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of Peoples and Cultures, “which has not sought to give order and meaning to life through some form of religion.” Involving such fundamentals as “order” and “meaning” to life, religion surely would merit something other than argument or debate. Rather, it merits discussion—that is, a thorough consideration—with someone else. But with whom, and what good can come of it?