Now that the smoke has cleared, I would like to reference the heated discussion between writer Sam Harris and producer, director, actor Ben Affleck. Mr. Affleck got very annoyed as both religious and secular ecumenical norms were being so crassly neglected by the atheist and the politically incorrect.
Ecumenicism is a movement promoting cooperation and unity among differing religious groups. Ecumenical and interfaith movements have grown up alongside of and are entwined in the academic study of religion and have had a strong influence on how we speak publicly about religion.
Is it offensive to point out the bigotry and violence inherent in religion?
We sound like racists if we point out the religious controversy inherent in all religions; Mr. Affleck is right.
Mr. Harris is right; we sound as if we are choosing to ignore the violent and inflammatory nature of religion when we insist on ecumenical-speak.
The ecumenical and interfaith religious movements attempt to salvage the good influence of and insist upon the good therapy inherent in the revelations of our religions.
I think Mr. Affleck might be representing the majority view, the idea that our religions should, and do, contain life-affirming values and that any life-defeating behavior does not belong to true religion. What’s more, there seems to be an unstated expectation that our choice of words in the public discourse will determine what religion is and will become.
It’s common that both the adherent (believer) and the non-religious person would prefer that everyone speak ‘respectfully’ of religion and especially the religions that are foreign to them.
There are and have been many modern movements that profess and desire no less than a solidarity between all people of every nation on the planet and hope to achieve this through inter-religious dialogue.
This yearning has grown up alongside of, and is often assumed to be a part of, the academic study of religion. A great many people have come to the study of religion with the objective of promoting peace and inter-religious dialogue. Many students of religion began their studies with the initial desire to seek what is common among the various religions of the world.
Movements that profess a world fellowship through inter-religious dialogue do not, in my view, necessarily promote the study and understanding of religious behavior and practice.
With the intention of bringing peace where there is animosity between different Faiths, these fellowship movements discard or ignore many of the teachings or practices of the diverse religions of the world.
They attempt to extract a wisdom tradition and champion wise religious leaders with the hope that these pluralistic and common aspects of different religions will eventually replace ancient prejudices.
Can’t We All Just Get Along
In many ways, the universalism expressed in these movements is nurtured by a conscious need to combat the religious controversy proposed by the living religions of the world.
In a way, they are acknowledging the destructive and sometimes anti-human tendencies of our religions, and present themselves (unwittingly, at times) as reformers of religion.
The diligent student of religion should seek knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Real inquiry into the subject of religion is the transforming goal; religious literacy will transform our public discourse, as our understanding of the religions of the world increases.