My reason in writing is to examine the propensity toward violence and intolerance in each of the three world views — monotheism, polytheism and non-theistic philosophies — and to speculate on the future of religious belief.
I begin with the thesis that monotheism, more so than the other worldviews, plants the seeds of violence and intolerance toward those outside the fold.
I reject the thesis that the communist nations — because they embraced atheism and mistreated and killed so many of their own citizens — did so because of atheism. They did so because they treated communism as the one and only way. If one considers it to be communism as a world view, not atheism, this way of arguing is logical.
“ … In its exclusive devotion to the worship of one God, monotheism has inspired much ferocity and fanaticism … Polytheism in contrast is open-ended and easy-going. Many roads lead to the mountaintop. A person may choose any path. Violence among polytheists is not unknown, but it pales in comparison.” (“God against the Gods: Monotheism versus Polytheism,” by M. Lal Goel)
My second thesis is that Islam has been given a pass in the Western media and that this is neither healthy nor productive. Why are we shielding Islam from the criticisms rightly earned by some of its followers? Why is the Quran not subjected to historical criticism and critical methods?
Why does a nation founded on the principles of freedom of speech and expression self-censor the cartoons of Mohammad? A free democratic people should not “shake in fear” of offending people with cultures mired in the past who often treat women as chattel and are intolerant of all who beg to differ. We overlook the very practices we abhor in our own populace because it has been deemed politically incorrect to criticize Islam.
To argue that it is poverty and a lack of economic opportunity that is responsible for terrorism is to bury one’s head in the sand. Modern terrorists have more often been led by middle-class, even wealthy, highly educated people, some with engineering and medical degrees. Terrorism historically has shown no abhorrence for wealth and privilege.
The Christian Crusades were not led by poor, unemployed, under-educated people. They had the blessings of those of wealth and privilege and were led by the same. The reality is that religious writings and beliefs can, and often do, lead to violence and mayhem against those outside the fold.
My third thesis is that religious beliefs and/or other world views are evolutionary in nature and change as we learn more about the world in which we live and the nature and aspects of being human and living in social settings. This thesis accepts the idea that values and laws are relative to the historical period being examined, and that change is normal and desirable.
The contemporary world witnesses knowledge amassed and used in ways unthinkable a generation ago. The technological revolution has made the world smaller and allowed cultures to blend and mix daily, for better and for worse.
We live in an increasingly secular world. This is as one would expect, as our knowledge of the natural world expands in the ever-increasing information explosion. Less and less is left without credible theories to describe what we once found inexplicable.
The current ascendant interest in secular meditation and mindfulness practices in the western world is testament to this continuing philosophical swing.
The numbers of religiously unattached — the “nones” — especially among young people in the United States, are rapidly rising. About 16 percent of Americans are unaffiliated with any faith, and among those ages 18 to 29, this increases to 25 percent. Polls have shown between 41 and 47 percent of Americans as “unchurched” in recent decades.
Religious beliefs, like all other world views and philosophies, tend to evolve over time. Nations are more dependent on each other, and our tolerance and understanding of other cultures rising. The religions of the future will be more akin to the ways of the East, while becoming increasingly secular in nature. God will cease to be an exclusive concept and will simply be a metaphor for living together on this small planet.
This is not unlike the thoughts of those who perceive nature or the god of nature as worthy of our embrace today. As has been often stated, I will quote writer Leo Tolstoy, “The Kingdom of God is within us.” It is here in this world, not elsewhere; now, not later.