Opinion: Re-examining religion

Kevin Griffin

Abbi Pittman

Kevin Griffin

Few topics arouse the same tension that religion does. The potential for a hitting a nerve in religious discussions is high, so we tend to avoid the topic.

However, a recent event shows us why it is necessary to have these perhaps painful discussions.

Last week, Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani activist for women’s rights and education, was shot by the Taliban for her efforts, according to The New York Times.

This appalling event brings with it an excellent opportunity to resurrect what has become a key debate in how our modern world considers religion – namely in the context of the separation of moderate religious observance from religious fanaticism.

“Moderate” religious believers might point out that extremism is the cause of religious violence, not the religion itself. I can understand the reason for taking this position – it allows moderate believers to distance themselves from less than ideal elements of their faith.

Superficially, this view seems sensible and plausible. It is not right to treat the decent, peaceful religious followers the same way many would cruel sadists such as the Taliban.

Nor am I saying that we should. In a free society, everyone should be allowed to live their lives and believe what they want as long as they do not harm others.

However, in the interest of having a substantive debate, we must look at that one defining trait of all religious beliefs that ties together the moderates and the extremists: faith.

Religion without faith is unthinkable, and to qualify as a believer one must have some sort of faith. Faith, however, has a pernicious effect because it affirms the belief that some ideas about reality are valid without concrete evidence.

Compare the Catholic belief that during communion worshippers consume the body of Christ with the sexist belief that caused Islamic fanatics to wage “jihad” and commit acts of violence such as the one against Malala.

These do not seem to share much in common at first glance. The first belief, while strange, does harm to no one while the second does demonstrable damage.

Both, however, rely on a faith that is divorced from reality. It is not rational to believe that bread and wine become flesh and blood, or that dissent requires death. The same principle justifies both.

Beliefs do matter, and their faith leads religious followers to believe things they do not have a solid reason or evidence to believe.

While many non-violent religious believers take comfort in faith, they should also realize that what brings them comfort may also provide an unjustified license to harm those they likely detest the most.

Griffin, a freshman journalism major form Madison, is the Opinion editor.