Why Many Doubt That Religion Can Unite Mankind
“LOVE your neighbor.” (Matthew 22:39) This basic rule of conduct is acclaimed by many religions. If such religions were effective in teaching their members to love their neighbor, their flocks would be drawn together and be united. However, is that what you have observed? Are religions a force for unity? A recent survey in Germany asked the question: “Do religions unite people, or are they more likely to separate them?” Of the respondents, 22 percent felt that religions unite, whereas 52 percent felt that they divide, or separate. Perhaps people in your country feel much the same way.
Why do many have little confidence that religion can unite mankind? Perhaps because of what they know from history. Instead of drawing people together, religion has often pushed them apart. In some instances, religion has been the cover under which the most dreadful atrocities have been committed. Consider some examples from just the last 100 years.
Influenced by Religion
During the second world war, Roman Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs in the Balkans were at one another’s throats. Both groups claimed to follow Jesus, who taught his followers to love their neighbor. Yet, their conflict led to “one of the most appalling civilian massacres known to history,” as one researcher put it. The world was aghast at the death toll of more than 500,000 men, women, and children.
In 1947 the Indian subcontinent was home to some 400 million people—about a fifth of humanity—mainly Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. When India was partitioned, the Islamic nation of Pakistan was born. At the time, hundreds of thousands of refugees from both countries were burned, beaten, tortured, and shot in a series of religious massacres.
As if the foregoing examples were not disturbing enough, the turn of the century brought to the fore the threat of terrorism. Today, terrorism has put the whole world on alert, and many terrorist groups claim to have religious ties. Religion is not viewed as a promoter of unity. Instead, it is often associated with violence and disunity. Small wonder, therefore, that the German newsmagazine FOCUS compared the world’s major religions—Buddhism, Christendom, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism—to gunpowder.
While some religions are at war with one another, others are beset by internal squabbles. For instance, in recent years the churches of Christendom have been split by ongoing debates on matters of doctrine. Clergy and laity alike ask: Is birth control permitted? What about abortion? Should women be ordained as priests? How ought the church to view homosexuality? Should a religion sanction war? In view of such disunity, many wonder, ‘How can a religion unite mankind if it cannot unite even its own members?’
Clearly, religion in general has failed to be a force for unity. But are all religions marked by divisions? Is there a religion that is different—one that can unite mankind?
[Picture on page 3]
Policemen wounded during clash between religious groups in India in 1947
Photo by Keystone/Getty Images