An email arrived yesterday that asked a very simple question: “What can religions do to free themselves from violence?” I will try to keep my answer just as simple: Nothing.
There is nothing religion can do because religion is a concept, a series of propositions and practices that in and of itself does nothing. If we want to keep religion free from violence we have to address the question “What can people of faith do to keep themselves and therefore their religions free from violence?’ To this I would say five things.
First, people of faith must cultivate humility as the heart of faith. Religiously sanctioned violence arises when people are certain that they and only they have the truth. People of faith must learn to say, “This is what I believe to be so, but I admit that there is no way to prove that I am right.”
Second, people of faith must have the courage to critically investigate the ideas of faith. Critical studies of the Bible, Koran, Gita, etc. can, if done with an open heart as well as an open mind, deepen one’s appreciation for and understanding of the profound teachings found in these and other holy books. Literalism kills the spirit and fans the flames of war.
Third, people of faith must engage in contemplative self–inquiry, tracing the clamor of ego back to the silence of God, that field of pure consciousness in which all things rise and return. Every religion has such practices so there is no need to borrow for another faith or invent some new tool or technique. Nevertheless I would suggest the curious read Ramana Maharshi, Krishnamurti, Toni Packer, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and Gangagi to get a clear idea of what self–inquiry has to offer.
Fourth, people of faith must rid their sacred texts and teachings of xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, God–sanctioned violence, and racisms of all kinds. Insist that we reinforce the prophetic ideals of universal justice and compassion rather than the parochial ideals of spiritual triumphalism.
Fifth, people of faith must enter into dialogue with one another. As the tag line to my One River Foundation affirms, we build community through conversation. It is vital that we hear each other’s voices, stories and experiences. If we focus on our personal practices and experiences rather than the fixed dogmas of our respective faith traditions we will find common ground on which to build a just and compassionate. society.
You may have other ideas to add to my list, and I would appreciate reading them, but this is a start. Though it is not one I expect many will take up any time soon.