Isn’t religion a belief in a higher being or a set of principles which would guide one through life?
Though I was raised in a specific religion, I knew people of various sects in my own religion as well as people of other faith. From my friendships with these people, I learned that they too were taught to love God and their neighbours, exactly what I was told that my religion taught.
During my schooling and upbringing days, I was familiarised with the teachings of helping others, especially the poor, sick and disabled. Some of these teachings, looking back, may have been bigoted and hypocritical, but never were they advocating violence.
As I grew older and got exposed to several other religions, I learned that they too held similar views and espoused a life of peace, love, and charity.
To sum it up, during my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, religion to me was love, peace, charity and living in harmony.
As I grew older I learnt that my understanding of religion was not always true. I started to understand that with some religions, or more specifically, with some religious people, there was a caveat to what I had always thought.
That caveat was that according to their understanding of their religion, it is one of peace, love, charity, and harmony, only if others believe as they do. If we harbour slightly different beliefs or cultures or lifestyles than they do, it is not just unacceptable, but dangerous too.
History has enough evidence that in multitude of wars have been fought over religion, ideologies, politics or land; more people have died in religious wars than any other types of war, statistically approximately 809 million people in religious wars as compared to 209 million in non-religious wars.
However, if we take a closer look at the past, it can be seen that in most cases true religion was never involved in these wars. Aside from some ignorant and bigoted missionaries, there were usually other reasons for the killing of millions of people.
This was the case in just about every war which was waged in the name of religion. The oppression of religious minorities or any minority for that matter has its root causes in greed, power, bigotry, hatred, and politics.
Disregarding wars involving religion, history also shows us the reason to see religion in a different light. There are enough historical evidences of the Catholic Church encouraging science and the arts, while Islam was noted for advances in science, mathematics, and architecture. The mysticism of our Asian religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism fostered a new way of dealing with science and self-awareness and mental and physical health.
What went wrong?
Well, I can say that humans went wrong. Religious extremists hijacked what was normally a peaceful and loving creation of man, resulting in a tradition of hatred, fear, and prejudice being passed down to human misfits.
Today, when we talk about fighting a “war on terrorism”, it should actually be called a “war on religious extremists”.
Islamic extremists may be the most prevalent, but they are by no means alone. Many Muslims still harbour a fear and hatred of Christians for the atrocities of the Crusades and wish to go back to the times when Islam was a powerful political and cultural force. This really has nothing to do with religion, only hate and power and perhaps politics.
Religions mostly may not be breeding hatred, bigotry and violence, but they are often havens for degenerates and just plain evil people to live and act with security and often impunity. They believe that since they are practicing a religion they are protected.
The primary responsibility for this extremism is of the religions themselves for allowing an atmosphere where this extreme negative behaviour and preaching can flourish. Active and passive allowances include not criticizing their extremist members or less actively fight against their views and activities regardless of how violent or murderous they are. The extremists even enjoy monetary support from their religions.
Religion, as a belief in a higher being and a belief that we should love and care for our fellow man, is a beautiful concept. But when people with ulterior motives, suffering from mental disease and extreme hatred and bigotry are allowed to take over a religion and run amok, then religion must be held accountable and must exert control or punishment on its believers.
If this doesn’t happen, we all will be doomed to destruction from an apocalyptic religious war over which is the “true” religion.