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The Reasons Behind Religious Absolutism and How We Can Combat Them

Second of a Three-Part Series of Religion with Benjamin Hubbard, Emeritus Prof. of Comparative Religion

April 7, 2014

I was asked once whether religion had done more harm than good in history.

“More good, but it’s close,” I replied.

However, the same might be said of many human institutions – governments, the police, the military, the press – and much depends on the time and place in question.

The Catholic Church of the Inquisition is not the church of Pope Francis. The rigid Islam of contemporary Saudi Arabia is a far cry from the golden age of 10th- and 11th-century Cordoba and Seville, where Jews, Christians and Muslims lived and worked in relative harmony. The angry, radical Islam of much of Europe contrasts sharply with the Islam of the U.S. and Canada, which is largely moderate and prosperous.

One major problem with religion is the absolutism of many conservative believers. Secular or less observant Jews in the U.S. and Israel are considered no better than equally disparaged gentiles by ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews. Some very conservative segments of Evangelical Protestantism do not consider Roman Catholics to be authentic Christians. Salafi Muslims in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are dismissive of any deviation from their interpretation of Islam by more moderate Muslims, especially the small Sufi branch of the religion. Many Sunni Muslims in Arab states and their leaders view the Shi’a branch as heretical.

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