The Religion section of the Houston Chronicle had an article where five religious leaders answered the question, “What is the most dangerous idea in religion today?”
Religion is one of the most potent forces in human affairs. It has inspired some of history’s most sublime moments, but also some of its most barbaric.
The Inquisition, bombings of abortion clinics, suicide bombings in Iraq – all have their roots in some form of religious ideology.
With that in mind, five leading thinkers from varying faiths were asked the same question: What is the most dangerous idea in religion today? Their comments were edited for brevity and clarity.
Violence in the name of God – Richard Land
“I would agree with Pope John Paul II, who said that there is a sacred sanctuary of the soul for each man and woman. No other human being has the right to coercively interfere with that sacred sanctuary of the soul. The most dangerous idea in religion is the idea that violent, coercive force is permissible in the name of God – any God.
“You see this with radical Islam. Notice that I said radical Islam, not Islam.
“More people will die if this idea spreads. It will help poison the well of debate and discussion about issues that people disagree on. It’s corrosive to public discourse to say if you disagree with me, I’m going to kill you. It erodes freedom of speech, assembly and worship.”
Richard Land is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He was selected by Time Magazine in 2005 as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.
I agree with this completely. Coercion is a bad idea. It is not a Biblical motif at all. Look at the Book of Acts, which chronicles the early church. The Gospel was spread through reason and evidence, not force. Jesus was God himself in human form and He didn’t make anyone believe.
Follow our rules or else – Wayne Dyer
“Carl Jung (an author and psychiatrist) had a line. The paraphrase is this: The No. 1 problem with organized religion is that the purpose of organized religion is to prevent people from having a direct experience of God. Religion is organized around the principle that religion will provide the direct experience of God for you as long as you become a member, follow our rules and contribute to us financially.
“The most important thing human beings can recognize is that they are already connected to God, and to maintain that connection is not something you can turn over to another person or organization. One of the truths of the physical world is that you must be like what you came from. If you have an apple pie and you ask what the apple pie is like, it’s like (the apple) where it came from.”
Wayne Dyer is one of the most popular self-help speakers in the nation. He’s the best-selling author of 29 books and has been featured frequently on Public Broadcasting Service specials.
I don’t subscribe to Dyer’s beliefs at all, but I think he makes a valid point about a danger of organized religion. Bad people are attracted to power, sex and money. You need to use good discernment and have Biblical church discipline to keep things on track.
My religion is right – Rabbi Harold Kushner
“There’s a sense that in order for me to be right, everyone who disagrees with me is wrong. It makes religious interfaith cooperation more difficult. If I believe that, I have to believe that other people’s religions are worthless, invalid.
“You have to understand that religion is not about getting information about God. Religion is about community. The primary purpose is not to get us to heaven but to put us in touch with other people. I can have fierce loyalty to my family without denigrating other people’s family. I can have fierce loyalty to my own religion without denigrating other people’s religion. In the same way, my neighbor can say that my wife is the most wonderful woman in the world. I can take that as a statement of love, not fact.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner is one of the most famous Jewish thinkers in the nation. He is best known for his best-selling book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Anchor, $21).
Kushner is famous for the aforementioned book, but it was non-Biblical. His premise was that evil exists, so God is either not good or He is good but not powerful enough to stop evil. With theology like that I didn’t expect much from his comments.
He makes the classic passive-aggressive tolerance claim: He thinks it is bad when people think they are right but doesn’t see the inconsistency that he obviously thinks he is right.
Converting others to your religion – Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im
“I wouldn’t believe in a religion if I didn’t believe it to be better than other religions. The notion of superiority and exclusivity is inherent to religious beliefs. It can be dangerous and not be dangerous.
This guy is a Muslim, but I completely agree with his first statement. Good for him for being honest!
“The whole idea of missionary work is a very loaded and dangerous idea because it’s often presented as simply presenting beliefs for someone to accept or reject. It’s always embedded in power. Those who have the ability to proselytize to others are more powerful than others. They have the resources to establish schools, hospitals. Missionary work is not neutral. It is embedded in power. You don’t find Muslims coming to proselytize in the U.S. But you find Americans going to all sorts of Muslim countries.”
I take exception to his second set of statements, but perhaps he is the kind of guy you could actually have a dialogue with. I’d like to ask him about the spread of Islam in prisons and such.
I am not familiar with missionary work done with a quid pro quo attitude – i.e., convert and we’ll help you. It is usually people sharing the love of Christ in meeting physical needs with the hope of sharing the life-saving Gospel message with them.
Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im is an internationally recognized scholar of Islam and human rights. He is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University.
A tribal view of God – Deepak Chopra
“The most dangerous idea is my God is the only true God and my religion is the only true religion. It leads to quarrels, divisiveness, terrorism, prejudice, racism and bloodshed.
“All religious ideas are programmed into our consciousness at a very early age. We hold them to be true. It’s very difficult to step out of that condition even in the face of good intellectual reasoning because of emotional bondage to our condition. We bristle with emotions when our beliefs are threatened.
“We are at a very critical stage in our evolution. We’re beginning to become aware. We know a lot about nature. We have a pretty good idea about the beginning of the universe. We understand to a great extent the laws of physics, chemistry and biology. And yet for the vast majority of us, though we have cell phones and can make nuclear bombs, our psychological and spiritual evolution is frozen to a level that is very tribal.”
Deepak Chopra is chairman and co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, Calif. He is a best-selling author and popular lecturer best known for integrating Western medicine with the natural healing traditions of the East.
He also makes the classic passive-aggressive tolerance claim: He thinks it is bad when people think they are right but doesn’t see the inconsistency that he obviously thinks he is right.
Many of us didn’t have religious notions put in our heads at an early age, or we rejected them if they were. Yes, some people do that – especially in Muslim cultures. I prefer to have a free and open society where people have the freedom to share their faith in the marketplace of ideas.
He adds some unsupported statements about how we’ve evolved to this state and such.
He ignores that Christians in particular have wrestled with tough questions for a couple thousand years. The Bible contains these challenges as well – check out Psalms, Job and Ecclesiastes, among others.