There are a lot of things I don’t understand about the world. I don’t understand people who murder or rape or rob; I don’t understand why politicians lie. I don’t understand why Canada is one of the most taxed nations on Earth. The things I have the greatest difficulty understanding, though, generally have to do with religion in one shape or another.
Take, for example, the ongoing conflict in Israel. I just can’t wrap my head around why people keep blowing each other up. quanta tells me it is mostly over land, with religion used as an excuse. It just happens that people of one faith want the land the people of another faith are on, and vice versa.
Early this week I watched a documentary about the partition of India at the end of the British colonial rule. I just am not able to understand why people of different religions, who had lived in the same village for centuries, would suddenly insist that their neighbours must move to the other side of the sub-continent just because they belong to a different faith. It is my understanding, though a friend, that something similar happened when Bangladesh (once East Pakistan) declared its independence from West Pakistan. The results of all of this today: the on going Hindu and Muslim fighting we see on the news nearly every night, along with the destruction of precious religious landmarks.
I think that my view of religion is what makes it difficult for me to understand these (and many, many more) conflicts. First, I believe religion is intensely personal, and what you believe has no effect on me, just as what I believe has no effect on you. Then there is unverified personal gnosis–I’m willing to buy that your god spoke to you, but whatever he said has no bearing on me unless, and until, he actually speaks to me. And, the big one, I know there is no one path to spirituality and salvation (if that is what you are looking for). No one religion is right for everyone, everywhere.
To see how religion has spread across the world, take a look at this map of the history of religion from Maps of War. It doesn’t make religious conflicts easier to swallow, but it does make them a little easier to place into context.