What? You think there are dozens of major religions and thousands of sects within them. That may be true when you consider that many people believe in a long list of do’s and don’ts that are peculiar to their particular “religion”. But if you look beyond the creeds and admonitions, you will find that are only two basic belief systems: generosity to others and narrow systems of “we are right and you are wrong”. And all the major religions have many generous believers and far too many hateful believers.
In the third and fourth centuries there were major fights over what the exact natures were of God and Christ. Often these fights were more political than religious, often depending on the belief of the current Roman Emperor. Those who didn’t hold the right belief could be exiled and have their writings burned.
These persecutions of others in the name of Christianity continued through the centuries and into this century.
We have Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of Spain, who set out to rid Spain of “heretics”, generally meaning Jews and Muslims. He was more merciful than some of his predecessors; he didn’t torture suspects without the testimony of at least two witnesses of “good nature”. John Calvin was instrumental in the burning of Michael Servetus at the stake along with his books. His crime: denying the Holy Trinity. The Ku Klux Klan upheld “Christian morality” by bombing black churches, killing innocent children.
On the other hand, we have many examples of Christian generosity. The Quakers were very active in the anti-slavery movement. Florence Nightingale tended to the wounded and dying in the Crimean War. Mother Theresa cared for the dying in India. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for non-violent resistance to segregation and other maltreatment of blacks and others.
Islam has been called a religion of peace, but human arrogance has subverted it, just as it subverted Christianity. Muhammad had not been dead long before his followers started bickering over who was his rightly heir. If I’m reading the Wikipedia entry on Sunni-Shia correctly, Sunnis believe the leader of Islam is selected by consensus and Shias believe the leadership is inherited by descendants of Muhammad. There are many more differences, many similar to the Protestant-Catholic split in Christianity.
Just like with Christianity, many wars have been fought between these two groups over the centuries. Meddling from “Christian” powers has exacerbated these differences in the last hundred years, opening the old sores of the Crusades. We have Muslim-Muslim violence and Muslim-Christian violence. Shias blow up Sunni mosques and Sunnis blow up Shiite mosques. Sunni Saudi Arabia doesn’t want Shiite Iran to gain to much influence and Iran doesn’t want Saudi Arabia to gain much influence. Into this antagonism is thrown the wild card of Daesh (aka Islamic state). Daesh shows about as much mercy as did the “Christians” mentioned above.
An interesting aspect of the Koran are the injunctions to have proof for your knowledge. This may be why in the Dark Ages of Christianity, Arab mathematics and science were making great strides.
I didn’t have time to check it out thoroughly, but some say that Islam means peace. Google Translate didn’t give me this, but a Wikipedia entry on Islam did say that Islam comes from the trilateral root s-l-m. One of these words is “salaam” for peace. Hm, close to the Hebrew “shalom”.
Charity, especially to the poor, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The word for charity is zakat, which also means purification.
One Islamic charity is the Red Crescent, the equivalent of the Red Cross. I haven’t read much about it recently, but it has been active in disasters.
Two well-known Muslims who come to mind with a more peaceful outlook are Malala Yousafzai and Muhammad Yunis, both Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
Malala is the young Pakistani girl who was shot by terrorists who didn’t think girls should be in school. Fortunately for her and many others, she survived the attack.
Muhammad Yunis is the founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. The Grameen Bank provides low-interest, small loans to the poor. These loans have allowed many people to start small businesses to support themselves.
We often think of Buddhists as being pacifists. “One’s mind should be free from hurting or harming others” and several other sayings. Unfortunately, down through the centuries, Buddhists have been involved in wars and killing. Think of the “King of Siam”. The news has recently had many stories of Buddhist rioting against Muslims. Of course, the Taliban didn’t help by destroying Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon. The first Muslims killed by Burmese were in the 11th Century. In the 17th Century Muslims who fled India after losing a war of succession were killed after a dispute with a Burmese pirate king. Some modern Muslims have fled Burma to Thailand where they have been put in several refugee camps. There are also reports that the Thai military towed boatloads of Muslims out to sea and left them there.
Fortunately, we have Buddhists like the Dalai Lama. A refugee from his own country, he still manages to be cheerful and work to promote peace. He too won a Nobel Peace Prize.
If I put a damper on your Christmas cheer, I’m sorry. But remember that Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the “Prince of Peace”. I hope that the examples I gave of people of different faiths working for peace will give you hope for a brighter future. With our help, the religion of generosity will prevail.
Also in the Reader Weekly, 2015-12-24 at http://duluthreader.com/articles/2015/12/24/6439_there_really_are_only_two_religions