I’ve been reading of a number of recent studies and reports that point out some rather disturbing facts about the practice of religion.
A study by Gregory S. Paul, presented in the 2005 volume of the Journal of Religion and Society, published by the Rabbi Myer and Dorothy Kripke Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Creighton University, showed that religion does not necessarily lead to healthier societies, indeed, quite the opposite may be true: “In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies.”
A recent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report states that religious persecution is widespread. The commission found that more than 24 countries had little freedom of religion, and in the countries cited people are imprisoned for their religion, fired from jobs or kicked out of universities. Even worse: In Nigeria 12,000 people killed in a cycle of violence between Christians and Muslims stretching back more than a decade.
A study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows that more than two out of three people around the world live in countries with high or very high restrictions on religion.
Another study has found a positive correlation between religion and racism. This one is entitled “Why Don’t We Practice What We Preach? A Meta-Analytic Review of Religious Racism” by Deborah L. Hall, David C. Matz, and Wendy Wood. Actually, they begin with the premise that there is a link between religiosity and racism in the United States since the Civil Rights Act, and then they focus on the way in which the racism manifests, such as in-group/out-group identity, values of social conformity and respect for tradition, and so on. The disturbing conclusion they reach is “The authors failed to find that racial tolerance arises from humanitarian values . . . Only religious agnostics were racially tolerant.”
This “meta-analysis” looked at 55 independent studies carried out in the United States with more than 20,000 mostly Christian participants. It might be tempting to lay these racist tendencies at the door of one particular one religion, however, the UN report would seem to counter that notion. Besides, Wood, who is Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at USC College and the USC Marshall School of Business, says “All religions offer a moral group identity, and so across world religions — including Buddhism, Hinduism, Muslim, Judaism and Christianity — the religious ingroup is valued over outgroups.”
I don’t feel this information requires an alarmist response. Banning beliefs and outlawing religious rituals is not the answer. However, I think there are more than a few people out there who think it’s just the ticket.
The Religious Right, well the Right period, frightens me. The Tea Party movement especially. I can understand how putting a Muslim mosque would seem inappropriate to some people, but the vitriol of the “Kill The Ground Zero Mosque” campaign, as well as in the other issues these people rail about, I think betrays their true motives, or if not that, then it exposes the root cause of the Tea Party mind-set.
It’s one thing to have a reasonable debate about how the Muslim religion should be treated in Western society, after all, there are elements in that religion who want to destroy the West. But interest groups who create hysteria with hate-filled propaganda about Muslims are not acting in what I consider the American way.
When you live in a democratic society, everyone is supposed to be free to express themselves, and everyone else needs to be tolerant about it, even when dangerous ideas are expressed. That’s what democracy means. There is no other way.
There are some individuals and groups in this country who, if they were able to, would not hesitate to outlaw Islam tomorrow. Then what? The Jews, probably. They’re always at the top of everyone’s list. Then the Hindus, the Buddhists . . .
Reminds me of the famous quote by Pastor Niemoler. You probably know it: “They came after the Jews and I was not a Jew, so I did not object . . .” and by the time they got to Niemoler, there was no one left to object.
Maybe I am being alarmist myself, and yet somehow, I don’t think it is too far-fetched. I certainly don’t think that racism or religious intolerance is going away anytime soon, here or anywhere else. I don’t know what the answer is except that maybe it’s up to each of us to “object” by practicing a little more tolerance each day. There are other, more concrete measures to be sure, but I think it really starts with that, with us being the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi famously put it.
As a Buddhist, I do feel that a gauntlet of sorts has been thrown down. I cannot abide with the idea that racial tolerance does not arise from humanitarian values, as one of the studies cited above concluded.
No one who believes in humanitarian values should accept that.