A Problem With Religion

There are a lot of reasons to not adhere to a religion: more free time on the weekends, fewer dietary restrictions, less guilt associated with your own existence. As a non-religious person, I am an outsider, and as an outsider I can look at a situation like the attack that occurred in Benghazi, Libya, last Tuesday and see it objectively and without spiritual preconceptions. So I’d like, for a moment, to take a look at that event and try to examine it with an irreligious eye.

Hey Muhammad, did you hear? Someone’s using religion irresponsibly again…

What we saw last week was the result of the unfounded views of one religious group coming up against another’s reactionary anger. The source of this particular fight was a movie called Innocence of Muslims, produced in America by a man of many names and even more obscure origins. The filmmaker has told multiple news agencies that he created the film as a political movie intended to expose Islam as a cancer and to condemn its practice. The film’s backers are almost as mysterious. There are reports of millions of dollars being poured into the production by Israelis, Jewish-Americans, and Coptic Christians. While it lacked the production quality to really make it on the film festival circuit, it became a viral hit online.

The speed with which this irresponsible piece of attempted cinematography spread across the internet, no doubt supported by the same irrationality that spawned it, is worrisome but not surprising. Its inflammatory nature and supposed American origins inspired protests across North Africa which reached a fever pitch at the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

My experience has been that when religions make accusations against one another, they are made with little basis in fact, without outside consultation, or any consideration of the consequences of their words. Those on the receiving end exercised no more discretion or intelligence. They chose to jump to the defense of their beliefs by becoming violent and reactionary; investigation of a credible source of blame wasn’t even an afterthought. There was much imagination, but little rationality.

In the end of course, this is because concepts like logic and reason are irrelevant to religion. As too often happens, ignorance begets ignorance; aggression begets aggression, yielding only violence and further misunderstanding.

Fantasy and fanaticism aside, the only thing clear here is that some religious people had a big problem with some other religious people. The results of this problem included the destruction of an American foreign mission and the deaths of four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Each time an event like this occurs people all over the world are moved to ask the same questions: What’s the best response to this? How can we prevent violent protest? Where do we go from here?

I was surprised to find some unusual advice from a very prominent religious figure. In a Facebook posting from Monday, September 10, the Dalai Lama states:

“All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

I live without religion, and because of this I have been able to see the value of a conversation about the world’s most popular pastime without resorting to machismo or aggression. Religion does not appear to be going away. But if it has to stick around, I hope it will expand upon this intrinsically humanistic perception of the world.