Editor’s Note: This post was written as part of a Patheos symposium in response to the following prompt: “We all know the media mantra, ‘What bleeds, leads.’ Bad news sells, and there’s nothing like a juicy religious scandal to drive traffic. Yet, for every sordid religious story, there are any number of quiet stories of charity, compassion, self-sacrifice, and service. In our obsession with bad news, are we missing of the GOOD of religion? How is your tradition contributing to the flourishing of the world? How has your faith, in big and small ways, theoretical and very concrete, served humanity and the world for good?” Check out other responses here.
It is indeed true. Throughout human history, truly horrific evil has been done in the name of religion. Vast streams of blood have flowed in the name of God. Scores upon scores of people have been killed in the name of religion. Unspeakable horror has been committed in “defense of” or “against” religion.
But, despite all of this, I have not lost faith in religion at all. This does not mean I am totally oblivious to the constantly negative news about religion, especially about Islam. It has tested my faith. Yet, for every sin attributed to religion, I find countless examples of good in this world fostered by religion.
For every murder, there are countless acts of selflessness and magnanimity in the name of religion. For every act of terror, there are dozens of acts of valor and courage in the name of religion. For every murderer, there are scores of people who honor and protect life. In fact, the very concept of the sanctity of life comes from religion because it is divinely-inspired scripture that has inculcated the concept that the human being has dignity; human life has worth.
If we take an a-religious point of view, then human being is no different than any other animal. Why, then, should the life of a human child take precedence over a calf, or a foal? Yet, even the most strident atheist would agree that the life of a human being would take precedence. From where does this concept come? I posit that it is religion.
The purpose of religion is not only to give meaning and purpose to life on earth, but it is also to guide and nourish the spark of spirituality that is inherent in every human being. Yet, just like a tool, religion can be abused. A hammer can be used to build a house for a homeless family. It can also be used to break a window to steal the valuables of another family. The hammer is not the culprit, but the one who wields the hammer.
Yes, the other side says — but religious scripture has specific exhortations to violence and murder. There are specific verse in the Quran that say to “slay the infidel wherever you may find them.” Biblical literature is also chock full of violent verses.
Once again, the answer lies in the reader of the text. For example, when I read every one of the violent verses in the Quran — every single one — not once am I inspired to commit violence. Not once.
I know that these verses have a context and a specific understanding. I understand that, even though the verse, which I still ardently believe is the very Word of God – tells me to “slay the infidels wherever you find them” (it doesn’t actually say that), I know that it is still forbidden to take the life of any innocent human being, whatever their faith. The problem is not the text, but its reader.
I can almost hear the chuckles and guffaws of the skeptics. But I know that what I say is true because, again, for every one terrorist there are literally millions of normal, peaceful believers who see the text as I do: A source of inspiration and peace, not a handbook for violence and terror. They understand, as I do, that the text has a specific context.
It is quite easy to look at the crimes of some of the “religious” and dismiss all of religion as “evil.” But this is fallacious thinking. Just as you can’t blame America as a whole for the crimes of some of its citizens, you can’t blame religion as a whole for the crimes of some of its adherents.
There is still a place for religion in our world today, the skeptics and atheists notwithstanding. It brings comfort; it brings solace; and, dare I say it, it brings peace.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a contributing writer for Altmuslim and blogs at www.godfaithpen.com. He is the author of Code Blue (Faithful Word Press), Noble Brother (Faithful Word Press), co-author of The Beliefnet Guide to Islam (Rodale) an a contributor author at Taking Back Islam (Rodale).