Why religious fundamentalism can inspire hatred

“Human beings never do evil so completely and so joyfully as when they do it from a religious point of view. motivation.” -Blaise Pascal

How can the great world religions – which generally teach love, compassion and justice – become powerful instruments of harm and violence?

Source: Tyler Merbler | Wikimedia Commons

Although religiously motivated acts of hate are complex, and although religion can sometimes be a substitute for or intertwined with other motives, a common factor is religious fundamentalism.

Religious fundamentalism involves a kind of rigid certainty in possessing the “only truth” and the “only way” to live. It is generally based on a literal interpretation of a sacred text and an absolute confidence in this text. Other sources of knowing what is true or other ways of determining what has value are discarded – such as when science or a different group offers an alternative perspective – in favor of what is unquestionably accepted within the band.

With this comes a strong urge for fundamentalists to get a sense of who are “insiders” and who are “outsiders”. Explicitly or implicitly, it is easy for all of us to believe that members of our groups are superior, while others are inferior. One way for religious fundamentalists to solve this problem is to develop an evangelical zeal to bring foreigners in by attempting to convert them. However, when individuals reject their arguments or invitations, fundamentalists can develop even stronger attitudes towards them, to the point that outsiders can be viewed as inferior to their human equals, sometimes even leading to conscious or unconscious dehumanization. At this point, prejudice and violence towards outgroup members becomes more likely.

Since fundamentalist groups also tend to attract like-minded people into their communities, members of these groups often diminish or completely lose touch with those who are different from them. As a result, the kinds of reality checks that most people tend to naturally have when interacting with people different from themselves become less likely, creating the conditions for stronger stereotypes and biases to develop.

Sometimes the content of what is taught in a fundamentalist group also plays a role in promoting the religion assault. In accordance with this, in a study, research participants who were told a passage condoning violence came from the Bible were more likely to be violent in a subsequent lab activity, compared to those who were told it came from an old scroll. In a follow-up study, people who were told the passage was God-sanctioned were more violent than those who were told this information was withheld. The researchers hypothesized that “to the extent that religious extremists engage in prolonged and selective reading of scripture, focusing on violent retribution toward unbelievers instead of the overall message of acceptance and understanding, one would expect to see increased brutality”.

In response to this, many people in the developed world are withdrawing from religion. None of us want to join groups or movements that make the world worse.

But, what if the remedy for religiously inspired hatred was not less religion, but better religion? As the great psychologist of religion, Gordon Allport, said, “There is something in religion that creates prejudices and something that undoes them.” What does a religion of peace look like?

It is important that we recognize that there are strong psychological needs that fundamentalist groups meet – including the needs for meaning, value and community – and to devise ways for religions to meet these needs in ways that foster inclusion and respectful inter-group relations. For example, religions can dig deep into their scriptures, histories, and traditions to create in-demand groups focused on humility, compassion, and justice. Within this framework, religious groups can seek to understand their diverse neighbors through interreligious dialogue, friendship, and work that requires everyone’s resources to solve a common problem and advance the common good. As faith groups engage in this work, they can form close communities that do not need to feel superior to others while at the same time encouraging a strong sense of sharing. identify and goal.

In this, we individuals can ask ourselves if belonging to our religious groups alienates us from others or helps us to connect, work with and befriend others. If we recognize that our groups prevent us from empathizing with others, we might consider how we might push or lead a change, or leave a group for something better. After all, it is possible to use the many resources of our faith communities to arouse curiosity, wonder and respect for those who are different from us – as humans, with sacred value – while exploring our own identities and communities.

As the theologian Miroslav Volf said: “It is perhaps no exaggeration to claim that the future of the world will depend on how we deal with identity and difference.”

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