Keeping Religion in the Mainstream

If religion is to contribute to social well-being, it must have an active public role, but a culture of secularism seems intent on pushing religion out of the mainstream of public life.  The misuse and corruption of religion - too often headlined in the daily media – reinforces the arguments of those who wish to push religion aside.

However, the answer to the abuse and exploitation of religion runs in the opposite direction.  Religion needs to be brought ever more vigorously into public life if we are to combat the dangers of its misuse and misdirection. 

A deep and inclusive pluralism that welcomes religion into public life can help to moderate the extremes of sectarianism and extremism when devoted believers from different faiths strive to speak about their values and beliefs with each other, when they learn to talk about their own religious convictions in ways that others outside their own communities can understand – not expecting those beliefs to convince or convert each other, but to simply and effectively raise the level of mutual understanding.  That effort helps everyone to learn the true meaning and significance of their own and each others’ religious teachings which, when properly explained, have to do with peace, fellowship and justice towards others.  It helps to expose and contain the malevolence of those who try to co-opt religion for their own evil aims. 

Those who act in the name of religion with little understanding of its true nature and purpose, from motivations of simple ego or from the basest of human inclinations, are only too happy to operate out of the public’s eye.  They keep their distorted ideas in the shadows beyond the light of common sense and the transparency and openness that a more public understanding of religion can provide.  They prey on the uneducated and the vulnerable who in a world where too many are alone, suffering the anomie, apathy and alienation of a culture of materialism and individualism that is entirely contrary to the aims and reality of genuine religion.  In a world of too much sorrow and injustice, all too many live beyond the reach of those timeless teachings about love and friendship, and beyond the reach of human relationships of support and encouragement that religion is meant to provide.

If the public is not exposed to the nobility, love, and sacrifice that religion teaches, and suppresses the ideas and teachings of religion, not only does that encourage those who misuse religion for their own twisted ends, but it also encourages those secular forces that denigrate religion and deprive society of the benefits of the public expression and public work of religion — the enrichment of our public language, the celebration of ideals of human fellowship, and the advancement of higher moral standards in public conduct.

To combat the abuse of religion, interfaith cooperation and understanding needs to be made visible to the broader public, dispelling the myths and misunderstandings that serve to keep religion out of the public conscience. Positive interfaith relations can help overcome the evils of religious and sectarian violence.

Every religion should continue to work in its own way to advance love, well-being and the just and generous use of the talents God has given humanity, doing so with as much public freedom as required. But today religions also need to take some of their time to work more closely together, to show their commitment to human solidarity, to speak to those beyond their own community with understanding and compassion. In doing so they will find much in common, but also much to learn, demonstrating to a fragmented and frightened humanity that we are one family under God, however we may find Him and whatever our path toward Him.

Contributed by Gerald Filson, Bahá’í  Community  of  Canada