Theology COrner

Religion, Interpretation, Practice and Public Image

Religion is a very complex and varied entity, even among the individual followers of an individual faith. Many religions, especially the older ones, have many variations. What we don't often see is the variation in many of these faiths once they becomecaricatured at the extremes, especially when a particular religion is controversial for reasons coming from outside or within. Why does this happen, and what can we do to help people respect and protect these valid paths?

The first thing to note is that this is a questions with a very complex and multi layered issue. Like opinions it is individual an issue, with each person having their own complex sets of reasons that they see things in the light they do. To understand and educate each person you need to understand them as well as understand the issues in question for each religion that is misunderstood. At a base there is a few root causes that intersect in different ways. The first is ignorance of the religion that means that they only see the publisicised extremes and scandals. That means that the nuance is the only thing seen if people inform themselves beyond the commercial news network sensationalism. This ignorance breeds misunderstanding and a belief that all co-religionists of the problem or scandal are the same.

The second one is deliberate association with an act or group of extremist followers due to bigotry and intolerance. This is the deliberate act that creates a deliberate ignorance more damaging that accidental intolerance. We then add lack of information, or access to it clouding the picture even for people who want to be able to think or understand. So we have the absaloutley basic root causes of this, which vary to so many confluences of individual causes in the individual. The cases of the religions themselves there can be problems. First off, the loudest are always (perhaps sadly) are the most visible, often the extremists and conservatives. The moderates who live, worship and do not raise their voices are not often seen till they have to rise up and defend themselves. This means that the moderate bulk is often hidden and not seen until they speak out in a crisis. Of course, there are sections of all the holy books, or any religion that can be interpreted in a bad light. Likewise, there will always be those that will use them. Combine this with the attention they receive it does not look good for the religion in question. So down to the next question, how do we deal with this both in perception and reality? First comment is that in the religions use interpretation to get around the parts that are no longer useful. This is how Judaism gets around the bronze age elements, Christianity has modernised with time and Islam ensures that it is not a 6th to 8th century religion of an area with constant clan wars. This and practicing a form of the religion that has modified with the times has kept them relevant as personal paths. There are elements of all of these that have not moved, or even reverted, of course, but at the same time the majority of the religion has moved. Christianity has moved an no longer endorses slavery or burning witches, for instance. All modern religions that have survived have done this, this is what the vast bulk of the moderate element has followed. This is part of the way this should be looked at, the interpretation of the religion has overcome those elements that make the religions seem out of place.

The other part of course is the Public Relations problems. Part of this is the high profile of the noisy majority. The other part is the ignorance and deliberate bigotry. Some of this is of course the high profile problems and scandals. The sexual abuse problems in the Catholic Church, the way that fundamentalist Islam has overshadowed the vast bulk of moderate believers. The moderate believers are all valid, following their path and not excluding others. The fundamentalists of any religion that exclude others choices make themselves invalid, and only themselves. Not the moderates. They should not be blamed. They often as much victims as the groups the fundamentalists directly target, feeling rather pressed from all sides. While in a modern news cycle this is not unexpected, same as with a population that seems to think that actually informing itself is boring, it is not a good thing.

Something we should change. The moderates just living their lives should not be harassed, sell themselves and have to do public relations to make up for the actions of a few. This is making us look bad and our path invalid only. Are we not better than this?

Monique M. Toth