According to Clifford Geertz, “Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.” Thus beliefs may be expressed in ways reflecting one’s culture and worldview. The problem and reason why religion fuels conflict is because we are so concerned with increasing followers and proselytizing that we fail to live the teachings we want to impart to everyone. If we were more concerned with living out the tenets of our beliefs then maybe religion would not be so much of a problem. Additionally, we fail to differentiate between our beliefs and cultures and dump our cultures (even secular ones) on those we want to convert while condemning their cultures in a wholesale manner …
Religious by Name and Identity
We want to teach others how we believe things should rather than subscribing to our own beliefs. Further by perpetuating cultural imperialism we transplant our entire cultural systems onto others hand in hand with religion and justify our actions based on our beliefs. We do not realize the importance people attach to their culture and way of life ~ that they would fight in order to preserve their dignity and a way of life that has helped them adapt to their environments for ages. We fight in the name of God as if He asked us to eliminate those who do not share our beliefs. The problem is they are just beliefs because religion should transform individuals making them more human. We focus so much on our having the right and superior beliefs as opposed to living the teaching of our beliefs. Religion then becomes a divisive factor based on whom one agrees with or disagrees with. We only identify with those who subscribe to our beliefs and religion becomes nothing but a label we wear. We all think we have the superior belifs but the problem is we do not live as our beliefs dictate.
What If Discarded Religious Identities and Let Our Beliefs Manifest in Our Actions?
People should be able to know one’s religious identity by how he/she lives out the teaching of the Gospel not because of a label he/she wears. In the Christian context Mahatma Gandhi brought it out so well. Criticizing proselytization, he once said the following to a missionary:
“To live the gospel is the most effective way most effective in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. … Not just preach but live the life according to the light…. If, therefore, you go on serving people and ask them also to serve, they would understand. But you quote instead John 3:16 and ask them to believe it and that has no appeal to me, and I am sure people will not understand it … the Gospel will be more powerful when practiced and preached.” … “A rose does not need to preach. It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon…the fragrance of religious and spiritual life is much finer and subtler than that of the rose.”
What if we ceased wearing religious labels on our foreheads and instead focused on living our beliefs? Perhaps we would live in peace. When asked what should be done in order to make Christianity part and parcel of Indian life Mahatma Gandhi said the following:
“First, I would suggest that all Christians, missionaries begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, practice it without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, study the non–Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good that is within them, in order to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.”
It’s not so much a question of managing diverse identities as it is letting people be. If they find us attractive by virtue of the beliefs manifesting in our actions people will want to find out what makes us different and they will embrace the Gospel in search of the cause of the beauty of heart and being they see in a Christian living the Gospel faithfully. Not much so of religion as an identity and political institution. If we lived our beliefs we would not fight in the name of God. We would love others and avoid conflict. We would avoid so many problems. This certainly applies to anyone wishing to forcefully implement his/her beliefs on others.