Why Religion is so Divisive: The Danger of Discovery

[Part 1 in the Truth, a Love Letter blog series.]

As I begin this public journey to grow in truth about religion, I and anyone who wishes to join me would do well to remember finding things out can sometimes be a “nasty dangerous business.” It is no secret that religious beliefs can lead to conflict, from uncomfortable disagreements and fights to persecution and wars. This is not unique to any one particular religion, they are all rife with such potential dangers.

Even Jesus, the Prince of Peace, whose whole purpose on Earth was to provide the way to reconcile the righteous God with unrighteous humanity, caused divisions:

“Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all because of my name. Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ (Matthew 10:21-22, 34-36)”

Jesus’ way is so divisive that even his followers’ own family may turn on them for their loyalty to him. So what is it about religious truth that makes it so divisive? Here are four reasons:

1. Religious truth is by nature exclusive. Truth about anything, religious or not, is by nature exclusive. Anyone who has (and who hasn’t) received a poor test grade in school has felt the wrath of truth. There were true things about the subject we were supposed to study and we found ourselves on the wrong end of those facts.

Here’s an simple example of a question which has an exclusive answer: Did Joseph Smith (the Mormon prophet) have a beard or not? There is a right and a wrong answer. If you think you have the answer, anyone who has a contradicting answer is automatically wrong unless they can convince you otherwise. Of course, it’s not a very important question, so conflict is unlikely. But as we know, these types of questions are not the type normally given consideration in religion, which leads to the second reason religion is so divisive.

2. Religious truth affects how we live our lives. Religion isn’t the only thing that does, but it is perhaps the primary category of such truths including political truth, ethical truth, truth about family values, etc.

For example: If you are a Jain nun you believe the world is such that violence to any living being, including microbes, results in the accrual of harmful karmic particles that attach to your soul. This means, among other precautionary measures, you are so cautious to not harm living beings that you wear a mask to prevent any tiny insects from being breathed in.

3. Religious truth affects our orientation to the spiritual dimension. Our religious beliefs may affect or cause us to be affected by the spiritual dimension. For example: a Taoist worshiping her ancestors does exactly the right things based on her religion to praise and honor them with the hope that she and her ancestors gain a pleasant afterlife. If the Buddhist is correct in her understanding of how the universe works, however, this Taoist may be gathering some very poor karma by her attachment to pleasure and her holding on to the idea that there is any other being distinct from herself. This will mean the Taoist receives an unfortunate reincarnation.

4. Religious truth is evangelical by nature. If you have an a belief that fits even just the first two points above, you will be motivated to share that belief with those it affects and encourage them to believe the same. Religious beliefs include the bonus impetus of the third point. When you know something worthwhile that will change peoples’ lives and their relationship with the spiritual real for the better, you will naturally want to share that knowledge with others. It is loving for one Jain nun to tell another that she ought to be more careful where she walks if she was seen stepping on some ants. It is loving for a Buddhist to gently show the Taoist how her aversion to suffering and her sense of distinct self is causing her to accrue karmic debt. Each of the three points above makes religious truth pregnant with conflict and divisiveness; this fourth point is where the danger of religious discovery is born. People don’t like being told they are wrong. They don’t like being told they need to change their life. They don’t like being told their relationship with the spiritual dimension is out of whack. But if those descriptions do in fact apply to a person, it is loving to humbly offer them your understanding. They might be wrong or you might be wrong, but those committed to religious truth find themselves here in point four because of the importance of the first three points.

When you’re on a journey like this one, you’re going to upset people. They will disagree with your beliefs or with your right to make exclusive claims about the nature of God. Your reputation will be in danger; people may think you’re nuts because of the things you believe. They make think you’re nuts because you care to find out about God at all. They may think you’re nuts because you think it’s possible to even know anything about God. Rest assured, the people and things that matter will still be there when you return from your journey. Like any goal worth having, discovering the truth about God is going to cost you something; you will have to risk things you hold dear for gain of better things. I hope you will find this goal worth giving yourself to and decide to join me on this hunt for eternal treasures.

Are there any other reasons why religion is so divisive? Share your insights!

[The quote from Gandalf that served some inspiration for this blog is from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein. Journeying with the characters in the Lord of the Rings series has been my go-to for mental rest after long days of journeying for religious truth. Join me on that journey too, if you like! You can treat yourself to a nice book set by following this link.]

7 comments

  1. I think religion (belief of any kind) can be so divisive because no one wants to lose what they worked so hard to gain, regardless if what they gained is fools gold. I think about how hard it was for the Jews. who had worked so hard to base their identity in the idea they were the chosen unique people of God, only to struggle with the idea that equality in God’s eyes were offered to everyone (outsiders). I mean, gee, why did “we” work hard at our faith when just anyone can join. Grace can be insulting when we have to face the fact that our hard work at following the rules did not gain us the special status that we look for, are we no more important than the guy in jail. We humans like to be in special groups, not everyone can just walk on stage and get the lead role.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It certainly is uncomfortable to change your beliefs and the way you live your life. Admitting being wrong is tough for anyone! Hitting on that topic of grace is a good specific example of how how certain doctrines of specific faiths can be sit uncomfortably with those outside of those faiths. Thanks for your thoughts!

      Like

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