The common denominator that every religion carries is clearly belief, regardless of the context through which that belief personifies or manifests itself. The cause of intolerance between the major world religions, although varied, typically follows one of three paths:
• Ignorance towards what is not understood, misinterpreted, or different from one’s own beliefs, often leading to animosities surfacing in various ways.
• Fear and anxieties caused by visually extreme differences in cultural and religious practices, lifestyles, expectations, and beliefs, also leading to animosities surfacing in various ways.
• Refusal to accept any other belief system or its practices other than one’s own as being the “correct” or “right” way, therefore often leading to animosities surfacing in various ways.
In an interview with Michael (last name withheld), a practicing and knowledgeable member of the Londonderry, New Hampshire Baptist Church, and conducted via email, I proposed a series of questions to be answered. To be clear, I had also contacted practicing groups and offices within several other faiths to answer the same questions as well:
1.Kadampa Buddhism (the New Kadampa Tradition) out of New Bedford, MA – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
2.Main Street Methodist Church (the Methodist Faith) out of Nashua, NH – To which I spoke via email with a candidate for ordainment, however this person later denied any involvement in answering questions.
3.Windham Presbyterian Church (the Presbyterian Faith) out of Windham, NH – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
4.Church of Latter Day Saints (Jehovah’s Witness Faith) out of Hudson, NH – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
5.Orchard Christian Fellowship (Non-Denominational Christian) out of Londonderry, NH – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
6.St. Joseph’s Church (Catholic Faith) out of Salem, NH – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
7.Triumphant Cross Lutheran Church (Lutheran Faith) – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
8.Pilgrim Congregational Church (Protestant Faith) – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
9.Christopher Penczak (Wiccan/Pagan Faith) out of Salem, NH – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
10.Amethyst Wyldfyre (Wiccan/Pagan Faith) out of New Hampshire – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
11.Gardenia’s (Wiccan/Pagan Faith) out of Derry, NH – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
12.Southern New Hampshire Pagan Pride (Pagan Faith) out of Concord, NH – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
13.Hindu Temple of New Hampshire (Hindu Faith) out of Concord, NH – To which I received no answer to any of my contacts.
Michael stated, “Certainly ignorance leads to errors. I am reminded of an Old Russian misconception from the 1400’s. They reported the Finns (of whom they were mostly ignorant) of being beast-men with mouths on the tops of their heads, who would put meat under their hats to munch on during the day. Therefore, ignorance usually comes up with error.” In response to my statement that ignorance can be caused by the refusal to accept any other belief system except for one’s own as the “correct” or “right” way, Michael stated, “I’m not sure what you are trying to get at here. Are you suggesting that everyone can be ‘right’ or that no one can be ‘wrong?’ Can we really co-exist in a world like that?” On the surface, this statement somewhat proves my point. However, it would be unfair to categorize it as being ignorant because there was no elaboration on the statement. If we interpret the statement for what it is at face value, it is ignorant. It suggests that it may be impossible to live in a world where no one is wrong, or everyone can be right. However, in reality, that is exactly the world we live in. No one truly and definitely knows which religion is right or wrong, or if any religion matters at all. The fact still remains that, regardless what the stories and parables say, religion is nonetheless man-made and therefore fallible. 600 years ago, I would have been burned at the stake for making such “heretic” and “blasphemes” statements.
During the Dark Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, or the nearly 500 year period of time between 1200 and 1700 ADE, tens of thousands of people were tortured and/or burned at the stake for any number of reasons. In most cases specifically those who were suspected of practicing witchcraft or who were heretical and blasphemes against the Christian and Catholic churches. As a matter of fact, in Spain, there was an anonymous drop box attached to all local Churches and the local governmental buildings. If a person knew of any heretical activity, or suspected anyone of practicing witchcraft or heresy, they could drop their information into the box to be investigated by the Church and government officials. In the event that these matters came to fruition, the convicted individuals property, both real estate and personal, would be confiscated by the Church and local governments, and a small percentage would also be handed over to the accuser if they so named themselves or to the people as a whole for making the allegation. As one can imagine, this turned into a very profitable business for local governments and churches, and it also proved profitable for those carrying grudges against specific neighbors or families as with what happened during the Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts back in the late 1600’s.
Most people have a skewed understanding of what caused the Spanish Inquisition, and what actually occurred in the roughly 500 year period of time during the Dark Ages. During this period, there are varying numbers with respect to death tolls by experts; however it is commonly reported to be nearly 100,000 people. There have been some reports showing well over 1 million deaths, but this figure is agreed to be largely exaggerated. To this, Michael agreed stating, “This is quite true. Non-Christians and atheists in particular seem to prefer an exaggerated, highly generalized picture in their minds as proof of how bad Christianity is. Yes, it was a dark period in human history. However, nothing in the Bible suggests justification for torture. Such abuses were, sadly, rather par for the course in political and national affairs. The unfortunate marriage between Church and state back then made such abuses a shared sin.”
Since then, there has been an obvious conflict between all Christian faith denominations, Catholicism, and Pagan/Wiccan religions, up to and including most pre-Christian religions. To this, Michael observed, “Most of these conflicts are complicated affairs, and not always a simple matter of religious differences. Human struggles over power take many forms.” This is a fair observation. It becomes clearer when we look at how the development of the various factors causing children to bully each other is very similar to the development of the various differences in beliefs that serve as the grounds politicians utilize to engage in political debates with, or attacks on, one another.
Throughout this process, it has become obvious to me that an engulfing factor in why religions are intolerant of other religions is that people are inherently intolerant of other people. Another huge facet of this issue is that we are really no more or less educated than we ever have been, although we tend to think we have become so much more advanced. Yes, we certainly have made strides in technology. We can all access satellites hovering miles above the earth from our Star Trek like transponder devices, we can insert microchips inside people’s heads to see and hear again, we can perform miracles of diverse modern sciences, we can access each other across the globe in seconds, and have access to any information we could possibly need in even less time than that. These are, in the end, a dramatic success of a chosen few.
During a nationwide survey, a quarter of Americans had no idea which country America fought to become independent. Many Americans also thought that Winston Churchill was an American President. It is “common knowledge” (obviously erroneously) that the founding fathers were atheists. How many of these people could tell you the difference between Aristotle and Plato, or between Neitzche and Martin Luther? Or, for that matter, that Marin Luther was not a black civil rights preacher? How many people really have the slightest clue what is actually in the bible that Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from? I guess, at the end of the day, it is not surprising that the problems associated with ignorance would still be with us.
(Last name withheld), Michael. “Re: Student writing paper, scheduling interviews.” E-mail to Matthew Susi. 8 Dec. 2011.
“Program for International Student Assessment.” June 2007. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Cunningham, Scott. The Truth About Witchcraft Today. Woodbury: Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd, 1988.