Many atrocities have been committed recently, and throughout history, in “the name of God.” The recent strain of global terrorism has reignited the debate over the connection between violence and religion. For some, this is a debate as to whether some religions are more violent or peaceful than others, and to some it is a debate as to whether religion itself leads to violence.
As a Christian, I have also struggled to understand how common beliefs lead some to seek peace, but also seem to inspire others to violence. At this point, I have come to understand that I have been looking at religion all wrong. We are too distracted by the labels of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hindu, etc. There are really only two religions in the world: Altruism and Tribalism.
All Religions Are Used to Justify Violence
Current events have put Islam in the spotlight as a possible producer of violence. However, out of all the Muslims in the world, of which there are over 1.5 billion, only a fraction of a percent are involved in terrorism.
Likewise, of all the terrorist attacks in the world, only 6% are committed by those associating with Islam. In fact, in America, one-in-five of all reproductive healthcare facilities have experienced terrorists attacks by those claiming to be Christian, including a very recent shooting. Let us not leave out a recent group of Buddhists in Myanmar who are committing terrorism against other religious minorities. I could go on, but the point is that violent people come from all religions.
All Religions Inspire Amazing Acts of Charity, Mercy, and Peace
Gandhi was Hindu, Mother Teresa was a Catholic, and Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who was shot for proclaiming the rights of women, is a Muslim. There are great people from every religion and culture who have worked for peace and social justice. If anything, this reality challenged my youthful assumptions more than the acts of violence. Looking around the world, I see that the best people in the world don’t have theology in common, they just have a common heart. Which leads me to conclude…
The Labels We Use Hide the True Reality of Religion: There Are Only Two
I grew up in the fundamentalist Baptist community in which people are BIG on labels. I mean, if you weren’t a “pre-millennial, five-point Calvinist, fundamental, dispensationalist” you might as well been a heathen or a heretic. However, the problem is that we label ourselves according to our beliefs, not our actions. While we have tens-of-thousands of different labels, our actions are largely the same. We are either acting as tribes, or we are working to act altruistically.
The Religion of Tribalism
Christian or Islam, Baptist or Catholic, we group ourselves into “us vs. them.” We like to gather those who are like us, act like us, and look like us together into a group called “good people” and then classify everyone else as “the problem.” We use this behavior to justify social inequality, segregation, selfishness, apathy, and often even cruelty.
This is called tribalism, and it is the true source of evil. Religion is just a convenient excuse to both define and justify the existence of our tribe as “righteous.” By claiming a belief as “holy” we think we are justified in treating those who believe differently as less.
“The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but will they lift a finger to move them? Not they!”
- Matthew 23:2,4 NJB
The Religion of Altruism
At the heart of every major religion around the world lies these core concepts:
We need to treat others as we wish to be treated.
We need to invest effort in understanding others, rather than rushing to judgment.
We need to practice mercy, forgiveness, and charity to counteract the evils of the world.
We need to work together for something greater than ourselves.
The problem is that these concepts are actionable, meaning that we have to DO them. Believing is easy, but doing is hard. The hardest thing for us to do is change our behavior.
Even harder, is to change our behavior in such a way that doesn’t seem to benefit us. The hard truth about these core concepts is that they all require us to change our behavior in a way that makes us vulnerable. That is why we prefer to think we can just “believe” and be fine.
Do Beliefs Matter at All?
You believe in the one God—that is credible enough, but even the demons have the same belief, and they tremble with fear. Fool! Would you not like to know that faith without deeds is useless?
- James 2:19-20 NJB
I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. I believe the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus taught us to love one another, to practice forgiveness, mercy, and charity, and to put the needs of others before our own.
Most of all, I believe Jesus meant what he said. Because of this, I am in constant struggle to change my attitudes and behaviors to align with the values he taught. However, those beliefs only matter to me. If those beliefs didn’t change my behavior, then they wouldn’t matter at all.
If your beliefs help you grow kinder toward your fellow man, then those beliefs are good. However, if your beliefs motivate you to act callously, cold, or cruel to others, then your beliefs have no value to God or man.
In the Religion of Tribalism, we use beliefs as social status and segregation tool. In the Religion of Altruism, we use beliefs to challenge ourselves to live for something greater than ourselves and grow our compassion for others. Even the Scriptures tell us that Our Father in Heaven declares that cruelty done in his name is unholy, while any act of kindness is blessed (Matthew 25:31-46).
Do We Declare Allegiance or Proclaim Repentance
An act of repentance is required in all faiths. It is an acknowledgement that we understand our own part we have, are, and will play in adding the fear, hurt, and pain in this world. With this acknowledgement, we make a decision to work toward being a source of love and kindness.
In Christian language, we acknowledge our sinful nature and commit to follow Jesus’s example toward compassion. The sacrifice Christ made on the cross is both an example of love in the face of violence, as well as a divine act of forgiveness to humanity so that we know we are free to keep moving forward.
In tribalism, however, conversion to a religion is staged as an act of allegiance. Leaders of tribalistic communities demand loyalty to whatever their brand or label happens to be. Any doubt, questioning, or critique of a tribal community is seen as disloyalty or treason.
Those who align the most the ideal of the tribe are raised up the social ladder, while those who fail to live up the ideal are ostracized. Tribalism is the source of all radicalism, extremism, and terrorism.
Let’s Change the Conversation
The problems of violence today are not a problem of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or any other label. They are a problem with the heart of humanity. Whatever flag flies over hate and cruelty, let us not be distracted. As a Christian, I am confident that Jesus Christ does not care what banner genuine kindness and compassion is acted under. Do you wish to help others, work toward social equality, and build peace? You are my brother, my sister, and my family. Do you wish to justify cruelty and violence by any name? Then you are lost.