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Tuesday, 20 November, 2001, 17:54 GMT
Religion: A destructive force or a force for good?
Religion is often blamed as a cause of many of the conflicts in the world today from Afghanistan to the Middle East.

This has been the case with conflicts in the Middle East as well as Afghanistan, where the current fighitng there was seen in some quarters as one between Christianity and Islam.

Closer to home in Northern Ireland, tensions between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland impinge on every aspect of life with the two communities attending separate schools and living in separate areas.

Is there a place for religion in modern life today? Can it be seen as a force for good? Or is it a destructive element that causes more harm than good?

This Talking Point was suggested by Sarah Doyle, Canada:

I think that an important and interesting subject for debate would be the role of religion as a destructive force vs. as a force promoting good, (e.g. in Palestine, in Northern Ireland...). Are these juxtaposed ideas an inherent part of institutionalised religion?

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This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

People should always keep in mind the distinction between their personal faith and their religion.

Jamal Farah, Paris
Most religions have two components: the spiritual (faith but not dogma) and the ideological (dogma, organisation, most rituals...) Faith is a personal matter and is often a force for good. It is out of his personal faith that the Muslim Algerian Prince Abd Al-Qader saved thousands of Christians in Damascus from massacres in 1860. However, the ideological part of any religion can be used to achieve destructive political goals. Examples: Bin Laden, the Crusades, Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir. Consequently, I think that people should always keep in mind the distinction between their personal faith and their religion.
Jamil Farah, Paris, France

I was born and raised in a part of Scotland where religion was used as a tool of oppression by the "church elders". I had hoped that the human race was growing out of its' childlike beliefs in "god" and other such voodoo, and moving towards a path of reason and enlightenment. Alas, it seems that the religionists are still firmly in control - they're even talking about introducing more 'faith'-based schools! An end to religion and superstition, we've surely grown out of it!
David Moran, Scotland/Australia

If people really believed in God, why do they need a religion to prove it? I belive that being told how to live your life and how to worship is completely wrong and I personally do not agree with religion. As previously said, Religion is not about God. If it were, why are there religious wars - surely all Religions preach peace.
Sandra, UK

Many conflicts attributed to religion are in fact about territory

Mike Parker, England
Religion isn't really the problem, it's intolerance of others beliefs and lifestyle. Fear and jealousy are powerful motivators. Many conflicts attributed to religion are in fact about territory - as in Palestine. The big problem I have with religion is when believers try and force others to accept their truth. Zealots may wish to save my soul but if their views prevail in the afterlife I'd rather believe there isn't one. Hopefully if their imaginary friend does exist he/she is more benevolent than they and will forgive my unbelieving.
Mike Parker, England

One man has had an enormous effect for good over 2000 years. Educated in Jewish religious thinking and revered by Muslims, his teaching appeals in some form or other to this day. Mass education and health care were founded in this country (UK) by his followers. Where he got his skill and wisdom from is subject to debate and differing views are the basis for different religions and sects, and of course heated argument. They also created cruel institutions to inforce their own view of his teaching. In the end its upto the individual. Where did Moses, Jesus and Mohammed get their wisdom from, were they right and why has their teachings lasted so long are the questions everyone needs to answer or ignore.
Anthony, England

All religions are paths to the one true God. There is only the one reality, the wise know it is called by many names. It is good to be born in a religion, it is not good to die in a religion, for man must break free of rite and rubric to encounter the timeless reality within.
Chris P, Australia

What I cannot understand is how a so called merciful God could permit man to misunderstand his/her intention.

Barry P, England
Having been brought up as a Church of England Christian I was fortunate to go to a school that insisted that all world religions were studied, at least to a small degree. 40 years of seeing the way in which religious bigots from most religions and factions of religions have shown hate for others has led me the conclusion that the overall effect of religion is bad. Any God that permits the killing of others 'in his name' is not worthy of the title God. I have been told that it is not religion but man that is to blame, what I cannot understand is how a so called merciful God, whether Christian, Islamic, Jewish or Hindu would ,or could, permit man to so misunderstand his/her intention. If we are going to have conflict lets at least be honest enough to admit it is because man is fundamentally evil, and leave mythical beings out of it.
Barry P, England

The problem is not religion itself, but the way in which mankind uses it for its own ends. It's a basic human right to be able to believe one what wishes, but religion such never be used as an excuse for murder, opression and many other horrible things. I am a Christian and first and foremost I believe that the heart of the gospel is love. Men have disgraced Christianity down the ages, but many have enriched it. Nothing can take away the fact that man needs God and as the saying goes, "Religion is man's search for God. Christianity is God's search for man".
Iain, UK

It does not matter if you are a Christian, Muslim or for that matter follower of any other religion. Most certainly both Islam and Christianity teaches us to live our lives in harmony, in peace and with dignity and humility. However, Man has become very materialistic, greedy and hungry for worldly possession. This has resulted in him going astray and into conflict with his fellow humans and has left him bereft of any morals. What they forget is that, the biggest religion is humanity. And it is humanity which we lack.
Arif Sayed, Dubai,UAE

Conflict is an inalienable component of human behaviour

Jim H, UK
If religion didn't exist, conflicts would still arise as they currently do, except with a different justification. Conflict is an inalienable component of human behaviour. Religion is not to blame - it is the scapegoat.
Jim H, UK

Religion - created by humans to control humans. It has absolutely nothing to do with God.
Joe, UK

Can it be seen as a force for good? Of course. Religion has brought many benefits and not only to adherents. Like everything else, though, religions are human. That means some people will use their beliefs to help others and some will use them to cause harm. It's fashionable to focus on extremist movements, both today and throughout history. But extremism, by definition, does not represent the majority of any faith.
Kate, USA

Religion can be a private comfort and support to many people

John, UK
As in many things, religion can be a private comfort and support to many people. However, as soon as you get religious extremists you have an immediate problem as they will never compromise. How often have we heard that some piece of land is 'non-negotiable' because it has some religious building on it? It's no coincidence that the Middle East, the area of overlap of three major religions, has always been such a flashpoint.
John, UK

One doesn't have to look very hard to find how people have used religion for any purpose they like. The history of religions demonstrates that one side must 'convert' or 'kill' the opposition, because 'God says so'. I think religions are becoming a little more tame these days with the Christian church contemplating 'One God', i.e. the same one as say, Islam.
Colin, Netherlands

Religion should be left to the individual

Andy, UK
Religion should be left to the individual and should never enter state affairs. If an individual gets moral strength from their religion then this is fine. Once a state uses religion to further its own goals then this is where I feel it is wrong. If you look at most wars they are fought because of religion (or oil or both). If people were taught tolerance by their religious leaders the world would be a safer place. I am an atheist and find all religion distasteful, but believe in live and let live.
Andy, UK

In the monotheistic religions it is not they themselves, but rather their misinterpretation that causes the problem. If you truly believe in either Christianity or Islam, you will know that both are about love. Here in Northern Ireland we have a good example of two sides both fighting under the 'Christian' banner, but neither displaying much in the way of Christian values. I'm sure God despairs at what is often done in his name once true faith degenerates into nothing but dogmatism.
Wesley, Northern Ireland

I have no problem with religion. If someone wants to believe that a higher being made them then fine. It's organised religion that I dislike. Generally throughout history it has been used by people to give themselves power and riches at the expense of either their fellow worshippers or followers of another religion. I'll stick with atheism. After all, whoever heard of an atheist fundamentalist?
Graham H, UK

Graham H, I have heard of an atheist fundamentalist. His name was Joseph Stalin and look at the millions of people he killed. So-called 'secular' ideologies have been responsible for far more deaths than those killed in the name of God. It's just that 'religion' is an easy target...
Derek, UK

In reply to Derek, rather than being a so-called atheist fundamentalist, Joseph Stalin was a Communist fundamentalist, since the whole raison d'etre of his political life was Communism and not atheism. True, atheism was part and parcel of the dialectical materialism that phiolosophically underpinned Communism, but the idea that Stalin committed his heinous crimes (greater than those of Hitler, allegedly) in the name of 'atheism' - a purely negative and privative term relating to the absence of a particular belief - is risible. And in any case, compare the historical pedigree of ideologies such as Communism (at most a hundred and fifty years) with ludicrous superstitions such as supernatural religion (several thousand years) and tot up the number of people killed by each. I rest my case. Graham H is too charitable to religion and its dwindling crew of adherents; the comment of Bertrand Russell is as true now as it has ever been, particularly in the light of events this autumn: people who believe absurdities will commit atrocities.
Steve Payne, UK

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