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Religious conflicts


Past & current conflicts involving religious beliefs.

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In this site, LGBT refers to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/Transsexual community

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  • Buddha: "Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."

  • G.K. Chesterton: "It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong."

  • Mario Cuomo: "The price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that someday they might force their beliefs on us."

  • Sophia Lyon Fahs: "Some beliefs are rigid, like the body of death, impotent in a changing world. Other beliefs are pliable, like the young sapling, ever growing with the upward thrust of life."

  • Galileo Gallilei: "I do not feel obligated to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reasons, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."

  • Sam Harris: "Faith enables many of us to endure life's difficulties with an equanimity that would be scarcely conceivable in a world lit only by reason."

  • Walter Lippmann: "It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf."

  • Thomas Paine: "I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy."

  • Mark Twain: "Loyalty to a petrified opinion never yet broke a chain or freed a human soul."

  • Voltaire: "As long as people believe in absurdities, they will continue to commit atrocities."

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At any given era, there have been multiple conflicts in religious beliefs. They can occur in at least three different levels:

  1. Between or among sects, denominations, or traditions within a single religion: Over the past half century, many intra-religious conflicts have arisen between the more conservative sects/denominations/traditions and the more liberal/progressive denominations within a single religion. Meanwhile, mainline denominations have experiencing a major division among their membership. The latter eventually heal, either when one side develops a significant majority, or a local option plan is adopted that allows individual congregations to establish their own policies, or by a church schism.

  2. Between or among different religions: In North America, relatively few conflicts have occurred among Christians, Jews and Muslims -- the three largest religions. However, anti-semitism continues, and Islamophobia is currently increasing.

  3. Between faith groups and scientists: The conservative wing of most religions is often reluctant to accept findings of science in those areas that impact historical religious beliefs. In contrast, the progressive wing of the same religions often embrace scientific developments relatively quickly. Examples include:

Every generation of Americans seems to have one or more special conflicts that often result in faith groups actively opposing each other. A surprisingly large number involve the redefinition of who is eligible to marry:

  • 19th Century:
    • The legitimacy of human slavery. Ended 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War. Among the freedoms that African Americans achieved was to freely marry for the first time.

    • The prohibition of marriages by deaf couples in a few states. Ended in the early 20th century when the laws were individually repealed.

  • 20th Century:
    • Prohibiting voting by women. Ended with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920.

    • Prohibition of the production and transportation of alcohol. Ended in 1933 with ratification of the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, thus bringing an end to "Prohibition."

    • Discrimination against racial, ethnic, national & religious minorities and women including restrictions on voting, racial segregation in schools, and discrimination by "public accommodations." -- facilities that served the general public. Partially ended in 1964 with the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act. Discrimination against the right to vote is now being gradually restored in some states under the guise of preventing voter fraud.

    • State prohibition of interracial marriage. Ended in 1967 with a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in "Loving v. Virginia.

    • Prohibition of abortion access. This remains unresolved. Arguments intensified in 1973 with the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which legalized access to early abortions across the country. Debate about the morality and ethics of abortion continue with no apparent consensus in sight. Many states are passing legislation to make abortions difficult to obtain.

    • Criminalization of private same-gender sexual activity by adults. Ended in 2005 with a Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas.

    • Prohibition of same-sex marriage. Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004. By mid-2013 marriage equality had spread to a total of 13 states and the District of Columbia. About 1 in 3 Americans lived in a state with marriage equality. Many legislative, court, and plebiscite efforts are underway in some of the remaining states to expand equality. This is a long battle, involving a battle in each state. Most countries that have redefined marriage have done so at the federal level for the entire country.

    • Discrimination against LGBT employees, Unresolved. The ENDA act which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity has been debated in Congress for decades without passage. The ENDA bill remains active, even though the vast majority of Americans believe that such a law already exists on the books.

Among these major conflicts, those that have been resolved have all changed the culture towards increased human freedom and liberty. Past experience has shown that when a discriminated-against minority seeks the freedom to marry, they eventually attain it. Also, within a few decades, it is widely perceived as a non-issue.

Some changes take decades to accomplish. For example opposition to interracial marriage in the last third of the 20th century dropped only about 1 to 2 percentage points annually, with support increasing at a similar rate. Opposition to same-sex marriage in the early 21st century has behaved similarly. A major reason for the slowness to change is that many individuals tend to form moral and ethical positions during their teen or young adult years, and retain them through life. Thus, change takes decades of young, more equality-minded people to enter the voting pool while older adults drop out due to death, disinterest or disability.

Another factor slowing down the resolution of some conflicts is raw fear. For example, many religious conservatives are absolutely convinced that they are acting in accordance with God's wishes by opposing same-sex marriage. They fear that as state after state attains marriage equality, God will reach a tipping point and wreak devastation on the United States through some form of horrendous natural disaster -- a country-wide earthquake, hurricanes, tornadoes, a super volcano, etc.

There is no obvious drift in the U.S. towards a consensus on abortion access. This is largely because no consensus can be first reached about when human life -- in the form of a spermatozoon and an ovum -- becomes a human person. Most pro-lifers believe this happens at conception. Most pro-choicers believe that it happens later during pregnancy or even at birth. Without a consensus on this belief it is difficult to see how the conflict over the morality of abortion can be resolved.

Change occurs slowly within religious groups. Typically, members of liberal and progressive denominations, and NOTAs (those NOT Affiliated with a faith group are the first to change. This is followed by mainline faith groups, and eventually by more conservative denominations.

Still, most conflicts are eventually settled. The group of essays in this section describes some of them.

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Topics included in this section:

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Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-OCT-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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