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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 20:43 GMT
How does faith affect international conflict?
The Pope has called on leaders of all the world's religions to a summit in the Italian town of Assisi on Thursday 24th January to pray for peace and overcome armed conflict.

The summit is designed particularly to improve relations between Christians and Muslims.

A similar meeting in 1986 led to nearly all parties in armed conflicts around the world laying down their arms for 24 hours as a gesture of peace.

During his worldwide travels, the Pope has visited 23 Muslim countries - the latest, Kazakhstan, as recently as last September.

But can religious leaders and followers of the world's major faiths help achieve international peace?

Or does religious belief actually result in generating hatred and suspicion?

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

Your reaction

I think that religion can unite as well as divide depending on where we are on our religious journey. If we have merely taken on the external manifestations of religion, perhaps epitomised by cultural practices, then I will tend to see people different from me as aliens. But if my spiritual journey is one of the spirit and not merely an outward adornment, that kind of religion will tend to bring people together despite differences that may be many.
Shantanu Dutta, India

The fact that leaders of all the world's religions can meet together and pray for peace shows that no legitimate religion calls for killing. It is power-hungry people who distort religion for their own political means.
Lalit Prem, Nepal

If man is bent upon evil, he will find one tool or another, religious or secular, to serve his purpose. Like most other tools, religion can be used for good or abused, twisted and exploited for evil. Tools are not good or bad, but the particular use the user puts them to. Old as religion is, over the millennia, it has been used to do great good and much harm. Just like economics, politics and science. Also, like science and economics, some religions do not recognise an organised clergy (e.g. Islam). So every one is free to make their own interpretations and contributions - good or bad. Even those religions that have a clear hierarchical clergy, the 'men at the top' keep changing, like in politics. One lot of leaders may do good others may do more harm. What is required are: good intentions, and constant effort to learn and improve understanding and knowledge. This is recognised as good practice in science and engineering, and must be beneficial when employed in economics, politics and religion.
Usman Khan, Pakistan

No legitimate religion calls for killing

Lalit Prem, Nepal

Religion is one major excuse for man to fight man.

Mitual Amin, USA
Religion is one major excuse for man to fight man. It cloaks other ambitions of territorial gains, material gains or sometimes simply a psychological gain. It would seem rather foolish for Christians to fight against each other, or Muslims to fight against each other, but when a particular religion is in majority in a particular region, then the true causes of dissent emerge, and not one of them being religion. It is an inherent nature of man to affiliate with territories, on land, in space and in time. This does not excuse, the two major religions of their extremist attitudes, that "I am the only way" as said by Christ, or that Muhammad was the last prophet and therefore their religion is the "Final Word" of Allah. These two are expansionist religions, and have been the causes of innumerable wars and brutal destruction. Between the two religions, mankind should have been elevated to the status of angels, since each believed they were the true way, but we have shown no such trend in the entire history of human civilisation, whether they followed "pagan" religions or were "the people of the Book". We have conquered land, space, some part of nature, but we have not conquered ourselves, and should stop trying to make others see our point of view, especially when it comes to religion.
Mitual Amin, USA

God is beyond Religion. Religion is a path to God and as such stands in need of correction, adaptation and interpretation. Fanaticism is the result of equating any particular religion totally and exhaustively with God so as to interpret human attempts to interpret God's will as God's will itself. Every religion therefore stands in need of purification - in so far as it has to try its best to interpret the mystery of God's will for the world He has given us in a way that makes society a more humane place to live in.
Pgonsalves, Italy

A religion is as good as its followers.

Akbar Esan, USA
A religion is as good as its followers. And the followers of all religions have killed and pillaged over centuries for the expansions of their respective faiths. While they all profess peace, the all contain the vitriol of their own superiority that kills others. It is about time we abandon the hypocrisy that religious faiths can bring international peace. Religious faith has killed and will always kill. It is true that there are exceptions like Mother Teresa. However, religion has always been used to justify the atrocities. Examples are Hindus and Muslims in India. Jews, Muslims and the rest of the Christian world in Palestine. There is no more room for atrocities committed in the name of religions. Let us stop pretending and accept that religion instead of healing propagates hatred and turmoil.
Akbar Ehsan, USA

I strongly believe that more and more inter-faith dialogues are important to achieve world peace. I've been associating myself with many inter-faith dialogue groups and I've been witnessing positive changes members of those groups are undergoing. I'm a Christian and I thought, as many Christians do, that Christianity is the only true religion in the world. After becoming a member of an inter-faith dialogue group, I came in touch with people of various faiths and started appreciating their religions: Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc. People should not fight in the name of religion. Quite unfortunately, India is ruled by those who believe in establishing Hindutwa and often talk of constructing Ram Temple. I pray that our leaders and people become more broadminded and start appreciating other religions.
Albert P'Rayan, India / Rwanda

The goal of all religions is for people to take care of their duties towards God as well as man. Duties towards God includes following rituals, and duties towards man involves being a good, kind, tolerant person. If everyone stuck to that, kept the balance, and did everything in moderation, the world would be a better place. And while many people do do that, whenever conflicts arise due to political reasons, the religion gets blamed or abused. So there is nothing inherently wrong with religion, but the people who practice it incorrectly are the ones who give it a bad name.
Adil Siddiqi, Pakistan/USA

Well it is very amusing that people like SM (UK) see the religions as a marketed stuff. Religion in my opinion are all one, whether it is Christianity, Islam or Judaism, preaching basic moral values and principles for good conduct, equality and righteousness between all humans, and recognizing God/Allah as a centre supreme force. It is we humans who interpret and market it with our own sinister market oriented designs to get maximum benefit out of it.
Syed Saifullah, England

Religion played a great role in medieval times. But there is no place for organized religion in our modern society. Religious texts such as the Bible, the Torah and the Koran are in stark contradiction with modern science and knowledge. Thus religions based upon such texts represent no more than century-old myths and fairytales. There is nothing divine about them. Organized religions only harm our multi-cultural societies and cause rift and hatred between human beings from different backgrounds.
Amjad Farooq, USA

Religion just provides one more excuse to have conflicts. In my mind, there is no problem with anyone having any spiritual belief or following any religion. What worries me is that when people are NOT tolernt towards others religions and beliefs or non belief. Unfortunately many religios leaders, including high ranking ones, fall in this category. There will be conflict in the world with or without religions as long as people do not learn to communicate effectively with each other.
Sanjeev Dandekar, Australia

Religion is not a problem. Mankind's definition of how to put it into practice is. Man has an annoying habit, of reading a passage from a holy book where God says one thing, and then declaring he means something different.
Matt, UK

Sincere and educated religious leaders and authorities can do much good in the world today

Delia, UK

Faith and belief in religious ideas and concepts remains a powerful and important part of much of the world's population. The notion of the gradual "secularisation" of people's lives and identities has shown to be incorrect by the massive religious movements that have emerged and grown over the past thirty years. Not all of these are "fundamentalist" or "extremist", many offer people the spiritual sustenance they need to allow them to leave fulfilling and peaceful lives.

There are important religious leaders who can do much to aid world peace and stability. The leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims is a case in point: the Aga Khan has done much to encourage his followers hold beliefs that allow them to live at peace with people of other religions and faiths. Sincere and educated religious leaders and authorities can do much good in the world today.
Delia, UK

Organised religion is one of the greatest impediments to world peace. Organised religion is like a company or a club that markets God in a particular way, and tries actively to dissuade people from using products marketed by rival organisations. Instead, we should be either atheists or believers in a God that transcends all religions. The prophets have generally made useful statements. However, whatever they have said should be analysed and judged by individuals, and rejected if they do not appear to suit an individual's philosophy. This is not supported by organised religion where total allegiance is required.

One can see the evils of organised religion in today's world. All that is being done in the name of religion is really being done to support an 'organisation' rather than to support God in a wider non-religious sense. The Christians are better in that they have not been killing people in order to support their organisation over the last few centuries. However, one only needs to study the 'missionary' activities of Christians in developing countries to realise how much of the work is being done for 'God' and how much for 'political' benefit relating to the promotion of a particular 'organisation'. I am not an agnostic.

I firmly believe in God. But I believe in a God I can question and reject in parts, when the model is inconsistent with my logic. My God is also 'personal' and I do not wish to impose this model in any way on my family and children. I would encourage the people of this world to adopt this model. It is interesting to recall that Emperor Akbar of India developed this model of religion many centuries ago (Din-i-Ilahi)as a way of lasting peace between Hindus and Muslims - and it worked for a while!
SM, United Kingdom

No religion tells its followers to develop hate

Yousuf Ali Hashmi, Kuwait
Relations between the religions are depending on the philosophy of peace. In fact, no religion tells its followers to develop hate. Christian and Muslims never teach hate among religions. The tension is developed by those politicians and religious leaders who were using the religion for their personal gains.
Yousuf Ali Hashmi, Kuwait

Unfortunately. human nature where people tend to compare ideals and property, saying that what they have or do is better than others is pervasive (Mine is bigger or better than yours syndrome). For years many religions have denigrated other religions, either trying to convert them or despising them.

I was Christend and follow the Christian faith, but lived in what was former British India until 1947. I have seen directly the efforts to convert various faiths in not very subtle ways. At six years of age, I went to a school run by Irish nuns. I personally was called a filthy heretic!. All non-Catholics were given rosaries and had to attend chapel and church. This was in 1937, things have changed since then.

However ethnic and religious hatred is still rampant. It will be years before the majority realise that many prophets were in the employ of the state and made prophecies for the benefit of the state. Too many promised lands or victories resulted from such prophecies. Not all prophets were of this ilk, but it will take time for the human race to mature to a level to understand fully the translations given by the religious leaders.

Most faiths have a common dogma-"Do to others as you would be done by", until this true faith is followed, there will always be trouble. The Lord Jesus died for ALL people, regardless of the religion they follow, usually the one they were born into.
Peter W. Pearce, USA

Often two peoples desire the same thing and kill for it

N Khan, UK
Religious leaders like other leaders (Hitler, Stalin, Mao,etc) can cause trouble. It is not more or less dangerous. There will always be power hungry ruling classes with whatever ideology. Hence I don't think world peace is a realistic outcome. There are multiple faiths and peoples on this planet. Often two peoples desire the same thing and kill for it. Either subjugation of other parties by a stronger group (which creates poverty, resentment and further terrorism), or the elimination/demise of others leaving one group is the natural course of events.
N Khan, UK

The 'major' world religions, by numbers of adherents, may be divided into two or three broad groups. The first group arising from West Asia (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), and the second group from South Asia (Hindusim, Buddhism, Jainism). One could argue for a third group of Asian religions consisting of Sikhism, Taoism, Shintoism, and Confucianism.

The third group tend not to directly address the relative merits of their religion in comparison to others. The second group explicitly acknowledges the validity of several paths to a relationship with God. Christianity and Islam in the first group of religions, explicitly claims superiority of their respective faiths over the rest.

Christianity has lost the fight to secular rational thought, the latter being indispensable for a modern 'globalized' society, and it has settled into a discontented non-equilibirium state yielding to the supremacy of secular law.

Islam with it's 1.2 billion adherents has not yet reached that state. Both faiths to some extent feel vindicated of the validity of their faiths based on how many new converts join their faith. Until the puerile attitude of my-religion-is-bigger-and-better-than-yours, and the practice of proselytizing ceases to exist voluntaritly, I do not see why religion should have any moral authority, in contrast to secular law and order which upholds justice and fairness, in contributing to world peace.
Ajit G., USA

Religious leaders of the world can do themselves and humanity a favour by learning more about other religions, than preaching their own hardened religious ideologies only. What matters is the future, or the past, is just a reference. Dictates handed down 15 centuries ago in case of Islam, and over 2000 years ago in the case of Christianity, were meant for a different time and age. Today religious conversion is a chic word, where more than three fourths of humanity does not get one meal a day, while several die on a daily basis professing their brand of faith over the other. Why use the present to destroy the future by living in the past?
Rajiv, USA

It is the media which stereotypes people of one religion as terrorists, while it does not mention the religion of people who commit the same crimes of violence and hatred. All the religions stand for peace and harmony.
Syed D M Abdurrab, USA

Extremism in any religion should be removed from the root. There are equal numbers of people in the world who do not believe in any religion. Presently some extremism is more in Islam. People should realise the cause. Especially spoiling the children with wrong concepts at their early age should be stopped. It is unfortunate to hear that children are taught to hate other religions in some countries like Pakistan.
Mousik, UK

Whether there is a God or not, there is something God-like in man, when he rises above his own personal interests and prejudices to suffer and sacrifice for the greater good of humanity. Many men and women of religion have done this. But many others have caused wars, massacres and genocide. Equally worse are those who burnt books and libraries, and pushed back the progress of ages.

When institutionalised religion becomes the tool of political/imperial movements, religion becomes a liability. Almost every society and civilisation has fallen prey to this temptation some time or other. Humanistic movements which tried to break new ground by rejecting all religions (e.g. Communism) have not fared any better. Democracy, equal rights and separation of Church and State are the antidotes.
Thiruvengadam Ramakrishnan, USA

There are many excellent comments here now, from SM (UK), Peter W. Pearce (USA), N Khan (UK) and others. I have some very simple ideas to convey. It is this: God is in every person, in every action, and every war, and every period of peace. The main problems we have are from our "leaders". When we have learned our lessons about who is doing, and who we are, then perhaps peace will come, according to the will of God. God is in and beyond all religions. With the Supreme Will, anything is possible. Keep faith, and an open mind. We are living in dramatic times of great change, and this is the age of enlightenment. Find God and truth through love. Everyone has their own way of seeing, but there is one truth.
Steve Davis, USA

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See also:

18 Nov 01 | Europe
Pope calls Assisi peace meeting
16 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Vatican
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