Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Riddle from Ages Past and For Ages to Come by Edwin L. Young

The Riddle from Ages Past and For Ages to Come
By Edwin L. Young, PhD

Hypothetically, here are two representatives of different religions whose beliefs, values, and customs are distinctly different. Each of the representatives believes that their religion is right and that it should be the only religion. Therefore, the other religion should not exist. They, consequently, both believe that the members of the other religion should not exist or even should be eliminated.

From your point of view, which representative 'is' right? Of course, the answer is neither one. However, the significance of the question is that there are many religious persons in this country, and most likely all other countries, that take such an exclusionist position. How can this dangerous condition be addressed?

This danger can be addressed by universally publicizing and universally educating people to the idea that when one elevates and focuses exclusively on the beliefs, values, and customs rather than life, quality of life, and quality of relationships among humans, an endless vicious cycle of divisions and schisms is set in motion.

Evermore microscopic differences become the grounds for exclusion and alienation. As the alienation increases, knowledge of the 'other' diminishes and the 'other' becomes the 'stranger'. We can easily project the worst onto the stranger. The stranger can become demonized. It becomes increasingly easy to contemplate eliminating a depersonalized, demonized stranger. The stranger's beliefs actually may be, or may be seen to be, antithetical to one's own. If the stranger engages in an act that can be interpreted as a hostile act, this can become a pretext and rationale justifying varying degrees of destructive counter-attack, or as it is referred to in the military, 'overkill'.

If, on the other hand, people focus on the quality of relationships, rather than dogma, life is elevated, understanding is sought, and reconciliation is attempted. When life is elevated as more important than the particular dogma espoused, then, when confronting a person or group with a different dogma, the tendency should be to work toward maintaining the quality of the relationship in spite of the difference in belief.

In a democracy, we may call this agreeing to disagree. However, it goes deeper than this. When quality of life and relationships is elevated, we seek to convey respect to the person with the different belief and we seek to create a community or sense of community with mutual support for a quality of life within which persons of differing beliefs can feel safe to exist and safely disclose their beliefs and religious affiliations.

In the negative case, people are likely to become increasingly defensive, rigid, domineering, and hostile to outsiders. Neither of the opposing sides feels safe. Each undermines the other. Even worse, within-group antagonism may increase, especially as in-group solidarity increases and along with that exclusiveness toward the out-group. Rage within the in-group may be handled by redirecting it to the outsider. The lives of the outsiders become increasingly devalued and, therefore, a sense of offense is taken more easily. This is a miserable way to live, much less to practice one's religion. All, insiders and outsiders, may end in destruction or an
unbearable life. Such too often seems to be the case with the relations between religions in the shrunken, modern, global community.

On the other hand, a positive case can result in peace, support, security, and mutual respect and enhancement. A situation such as this also can result in different religions having a sense of safety to espouse and practice their respective religions. The positive case eventually can lead to understanding of the other's behavior even when it, or their religious conventions, are distinctly different from what our own. We actually can become capable of understanding how the 'other' could see, feel, and act as they have. We could even develop empathy to the extent that we can try to intuit what it would be like were we to have been in their exact situation and have had an identical life and social history.

In our country, when one group elevates particular codes of conduct over the quality of relationships, especially understanding and empathy, an attempt to control and legislate the behavior of all people may arise. Such legislation could involve enforcing behavior so that it conforms to the codes one's own group, or some other dominant group or religion. This can easily lead to the dynamics of the negative case described above. In fact, these positive and negative cases described above represent major trends throughout human history. Whichever trend a culture follows, the positive or the negative, may determine the eventual fate of that culture as well as many or all others, because of the interconnectedness of our new global community.

In our modern culture, these alternative ways of relating to 'the other' have become a major, critical choice for a person, for a religion, for a government, as well as for any and all cultures, to make.

Author bio:

You can read more of Edwin's work at The Natural Systems Institute.

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