December 22, 2006
Peace on Earth
The London Times sums up religion’s contribution in 2006:
As years go it has hardly been a great commercial for the idea that religion is balm for the soul. Depressingly it has rather reinforced the impression, developed over the centuries, that religious belief only deepens and strengthens Man’s propensity for hatred and self-destruction.
All year in Iraq, Sunni and Shia Muslims have been busy replaying the message that Christians have so effectively articulated through the ages — that intrareligious intolerance can be more bloody and murderous even than that between the followers of the great Abrahamic faiths. Rising Shia power across the Middle East, led by a resurgent Tehran, is causing friction and alarm among Sunni-dominant regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere. A millennium-old dispute about caliphs and imams can resonate as violently as the theological disputations about the validity of Martin Luther’s religious critiques 500 years ago.
Not that the traditional interfaith hatreds have been quiet this year. On the contrary. In Israel, Lebanon and Gaza, a political conflict that has religious differences at its core raged for much of the year. Within Lebanon, yet another civil war edged threateningly closer between a bewildering array of sects and ethnic groups that all seem to have religious affiliation as their defining point of difference.
Across Africa, religious-ethnic warfare consumes swaths of the continent. The outrage of Darfur, with its roots in a Sudanese war between Muslims and Christians, continues to mock the conscience of the world. Only this week, the embers of religious conflict in Somalia have burst into flames as extremist Muslim militias try to drive out the moderate Government. Across the border predominantly Christian Ethiopia appeared to be girding itself for outright war against its Muslim neighbour.
… In Europe ugly anti-Semitic sentiment seemed to be drifting from the lunatic fringes towards the mainstream of public discourse. Anti-Muslim attitudes and behaviour are on the rise too, stoked by a combination of crass apologetics for terrorism on one side and thuggish racism on the other. And the Pope looked for a while as though he might get the cartoon treatment after his mild disquisition on the philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity.
To the pathos of divisive religious politics around the world we can add the bathos of popular culture. Mel Gibson got caught ranting anti-Semitic bile at a Californian police officer. Judith Regan, controversial publishing maven, left her job at HarperCollins after allegedly making some objectionable observations about Jews.
… It’s all enough to make the disinterested observer inclined to endorse the age-old view, expressed again this year with renewed ferocity by Richard Dawkins, that religious belief is not only the irrational product of simple minds but positively life-endangering.
At which point the author goes off the rails, suggesting that “as Christmas comes again to a world in religious strife, Christians cannot deny a particular responsibility—to ensure that religion is not used as a political tool.” Better, perhaps, to ensure that politics is not used as a religious tool—as it has been in 2006 by every flavor of faith from the U.S. to the Euphrates.
I can dream. In the meantime, the Christians’ Prince of Peace seems to have morphed into the Prince of Darkness.
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