Is Religion the Source of All Conflict in the World?

I walk down the famous or infamous Yonge Street in Toronto from my home to my office every day.

And so it was on one of these morning ‘constitutionals’ that my eye was caught by a sale of soap from Aleppo, Syria. I had been in Syria until two days before the fighting broke out and so naturally I was intrigued about where exactly in the country the soap had come from, whether it had been shipped pre-conflict, etc. The salesperson did not know.

What she did think she knew, however, and what burst out of her as we chatted was the fact that all conflict in the world was and is based on religion. She grew up in a religious tradition, she was fairly well informed and this is what she believed. We had an open conversation and I talked about issues of power, history, geography, culture and economics but much more important than what I said is the reality that this young woman is not alone.

Many people perceive that religion is the cause of all the world’s violence and evil. How do we who practice a faith tradition, who are part of a religion, respond? We talk about power, history, geography, culture and economics, we advise people to read anything and everything by Karen Armstrong, we talk about the deadly wrongs committed by secular regimes and the gifts of religion such as health care and education to the world. These are good responses and there are more. I just never find them entirely satisfying, any of them. Perhaps I can’t, perhaps I shouldn’t, perhaps that is the complexity of the world of which religion is a vital reality. For now, I keep walking, I keep listening, I keep responding.

Contributed by Karen Hamilton, The Canadian Council of Churches