By Kim Barry
With Middle East problems again dominating the news, the issue of religion’s role in conflict is hotly debated. The decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply-rooted. We see Shiite and Sunni Muslims fighting and killing one another, and recently, Muslims attacking churches in Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Pakistan, blaming Christians for their countries’ problems.
Atheists use these examples to condemn all religions and belief systems, citing their conviction there is no God to fight over. The arguments have long ago crossed the borders into the realm of the ridiculous.
Since we have already celebrated Foundation Day, perhaps it is time we re-examine our own worldviews so we can be sure we are creating the best framework for the future.
Mahatma Gandhi had a worldview that was clear and powerful enough to bring the British Empire to its knees. Yet when asked whether or not he was a Hindu, he replied, “Yes, I am. I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.” His worldview was one of peace and nonviolence, but not appeasement.
Thomas Jefferson made a clear distinction between a person’s religion and worldview, saying: “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God,” and yet he also said, “Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppression of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.” The Founding Fathers were extremely diverse in their religious views, but they all united around shared ideals.
One thing I learned long ago is that it’s not a person’s religion that makes them who they are. It’s something that goes much deeper: worldview, by which I mean how we each see the world and our place in it.
There are the kindest and meanest people within the same religions. The richest and poorest, the most generous and most selfish, the wisest and most ignorant, are all grouped together within the same religion. If a person’s religion were the same as their worldview, then it would hold that all people within the same religion would behave in a similar manner, making their results similar. But the diverse distinctions mentioned above appear within all religions. It would be rude or politically incorrect to say that all or most people within a certain religion have any similar traits.
Wikipedia defines worldview as “the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society’s knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.”
Some might argue that worldview is the same as beliefs, therefore, the same as religion. But although one can certainly affect the other, they still remain distinct in the lifestyle and behavior of most people in the world.