I haven't read Christopher Hitchens' recent book, God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, yet its title compels me to present an opinion for discussion.
Religion has two faces: one unites and the other divides. Religion unifies people into communities and simultaneously divides by building tight boundaries around them.
Religion generally is founded upon one reality underlying the entire universe. This reality is infinite. It is the one source of all diverse beings. It is indescribable. Itself beyond attribution, it is the source of all attributes. This is the unitive face. It represents core spirituality. Spirit, unlike material, is all inclusive. It unequivocally declares the essential oneness of all created beings. It is the root of our ability to perceive equality. This face of religion is nectar of love, life and justice.
Now examine the divisive face.
Having given one infinite reality, religion goes on to confine it in finite forms, in words or otherwise. Describing the indescribable in particular ways, religion identifies the underlying reality with its respective form. The form becomes the God. Suddenly, somebody's God becomes less Godlike, somebody's prophet less prophetic or un-prophetic, and somebody's community less righteous and deserving.
In its drive to distinguish communities and demarcate territories, religion implicitly and explicitly encourages divisive thinking. This face not only sets communities apart but against each other and is toxic, insidious and downright poisonous.
Strong religious identities may be harmless within homogenous communities, but they are known to cause havoc between them.
We live in a pluralistic secular democracy. Secularism requires the citizens of our country, its social structures, support systems, and all levels of government to be equidistant from or equally respectful to all religions and all people. Religious identities must be balanced against the responsibility of equal respect, heartfelt and not merely superficial. Are we capable of it? Are we genuinely teaching and encouraging it in our youth?
Democracy is very spiritual in its recognition of our underlying oneness which is foundational to equal rights. Rights demand responsibility. What is needed for our responsibility: core spirituality by itself or multi-faced religion as it is? Can religion discard the divisive face and fully embrace its core spirituality?
Inability to perceive equality threatens pluralistic societies. The best we can then hope for is an uneasy peace; and history is proof that uneasy peace is easily broken.
We need to enrich and expand our identity. Let us not be so fearful about losing our religious identity that we isolate ourselves and shy away from building bridges to survive in pluralistic societies or a pluralistic global village that the world is fast becoming.
We must wholeheartedly adopt the unitive face of religion. We must discard the divisive one in our lives and in educating our children. Otherwise, the sustainability of everything inter-religious or pluralistic, including dialogues, marriages or democracies, is threatened.
~~Originally published by The Kitchener Waterloo Record at http://news.therecord.com/article/214121