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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    In defense of religion

    Jared Pflumcolumnist
    Jared Pflum
    columnist

    Spring is coming, and with it, a blossoming of religious intolerance. Due to the return of favorable weather, preachers and Bible-pushers seem to be popping up everywhere on campus.

    Yet these outlandish evangelists are not the primary source of this intolerance. In fact, they are rarely, if ever, effective in persuading anyone to accept their exclusivist beliefs. They do, however, inadvertently succeed in revealing the most alarming and subtle form of religious intolerance in our world today – the intolerance of religion itself.

    Many people witness these preachers, who often hold the most extreme and uncommon of religious ideas, and begin to express their distaste for religion in general. But this negative view of religion is often based on a host of fallacies, and one need not be religious (indeed, I’m not) to see that religion is not always a terrible thing.

    Detractors of religion usually argue that religion is harmful because it has caused most of the violence in the world, but this claim is inaccurate. Sure, religion has caused much violence; the Crusades and the Inquisition are not among religion’s finer moments.

    But even though some may occasionally use religion to incite and justify violence, the majority of violence in the world has had very little, if anything, to do with religion. From the military campaigns of the ancient world to both world wars, violence has mostly been the result of political or personal motivations.

    Furthermore, many religious traditions are diametrically opposed to violence. Jainism and many forms of Hinduism and Buddhism strictly prohibit violence. Many Christian groups, such as the Quakers and the Amish, practice pacifism as well.

    Additionally, religion often generates benevolence and peace. The nonviolent social revolutions of Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, were largely influenced by their religious beliefs.

    Nonetheless, some argue that religion merely sedates people and keeps them ignorant. Karl Marx propagated this idea when he stated that religion was an “”opium of the people.”” But in this assertion, Marx was mistaken.

    In reality, religion is often a stimulant. Many works of great figures like Michelangelo and Dante were strongly motivated by religion. Likewise, religion motivated Leo Tolstoy to care for the peasants of Russia and religion motivates the Dalai Lama today as he travels the world working for peace.

    Religion doesn’t necessarily produce ignorance, either. In fact, religion often champions intellectual activity. Many notable universities, including most of our Ivy League schools, were founded by religious groups. Furthermore, the fact that many revered intellectuals, such as Isaac Newton, have been quite religious indicates that just because someone is religious doesn’t mean he or she is ignorant.

    Perhaps the most cunning and ridiculous argument against religion comes from those who say religion is useless because it has been surpassed by science and philosophy. But clearly these people have little knowledge of what religion is and what it means to those who practice it.

    Religion gives people a reason to live, and more importantly, instruction for how to live.

    Science, for all of its greatness, rarely offers these same benefits. And while philosophy can be a worthwhile discipline, it doesn’t seem to motivate people as passionately as religion. After all, who, like Mother Teresa, has ever given up health and comfort to care for the sick because of Plato or Nietzsche?

    Thus, religion continues to be as useful socially as it does personally.

    Ultimately, by examining these negative views of religion, one can see that most of what is hated about religion is not actually religion. For hatred, ignorance and greed do not come from religion. They come from within human beings.

    But we should not discount all of religion because of some of the evils that have been attached to it, any more than we should discard all of science because of some of the atrocities for which it has been used.

    Instead, let us as students keep open minds, and as humans, open hearts. Let us not degrade religion and mock the religious. Let us go beyond our prejudices to recognize that religion can be, and often is, a wonderful thing.

    And, finally, let us recognize that in order to make the world a better place, we need not remove religion from it, but that we can and must remove our own vices from religion.

    Jared Pflum is a religious studies senior. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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