Intolerancia religiosa

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Udo Schaefer

Religious Intolerance as a Source of Violence
translated from the German
by
Dr. Geraldine Schuckelt

The world has not become a more peaceful place since Mahatma Gandhi, shot down
by an assassin, surrendered his spirit on 30 January 1948. Violence, something as old as
mankind itself, has taken on a new dimension in modern industrial societies - it has
become an integralpart of our lives, an ordinary, everyday, even trivial occurrence. Just
as fever indicates sickness in the body, so also do the increasing tendency towards
conflict and the readiness to settle conflicts by violence point to a serious malady in
society. It is a society lacking orientation, in which traditional value-systems have lost
their authority. It is a world characterised by nihilism andhedonism, in which fear and
hopelessness are spreading - ideal conditions for the growth of individual and collective
violence. In a world so overshadowed by darkness, the figure of Mahatma Gandhi with
his message of non-violence, his unshakeable faith in a future world of justice, peace and
harmony, is a ray of light, a sign of hope.
One of the most ancient and apparently ineradicable causesof violence is religious
fanaticism. From Cain’s murder of his brother right up to the present day one can trace
throughout human history a trail of blood resulting from religious persecution, religious
wars, "Holy Wars" and religiously motivated acts of violence. The Enlightenment, it is
true, brought about the postulation of religious freedom as a universal human right, a
right now writteninto the Constitution of every democratic state, thus removing claims to
religious truth from the domain of state power. Yet, at this very time, bloody conflicts
are being conducted in the name of religion in Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Sri
Lanka and Sudan. Religious fanaticism periodically flares up in riots and massacres, as in
India and Egypt, and it is not seldom to hear ofatrocities committed under direct
invocation of God and in His name. In the name of the "true" religion minorities are

Udo Schaefer

Religious Intolerance as a Source of Violence

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subjected to persecution, oppression and harassment - the violent persecution of the
-Baha’is in Iran is, still today, a sad example of this phenomenon.1
The tragic end to Mahatma’s life demonstrates that it isthe promoters of peace, in
particular, that provoke the hatred of fanatics.2 In his case it was his co-religionists who
could not bear the fact that he took the children of the "Untouchables" in his arms, that he
believed in Hindus and Muslims living together in harmony and mutual respect. They
considered his murder an act of piety, praying in the Temple prior to the crime for the
blessing ofthe Deity. Hatred is never so profound and irreconcilable as when its motives
spring from the deepest levels of consciousness, from religious belief. "Jamais on ne fait
le mal si pleinement et si gaiement que quand on le fait par conscience".3
There is, however, no basis for committing such deeds with a clear conscience: none
of the religions legitimises violence against those who think orbelieve differently.
Religious fanaticism, the bitter fruit of narrow-minded dogmatism, is the worst
deformation of religion, the perversion of one of the most noble virtues, that of
steadfastness in faith. Its psychological roots lie in vices such as arrogance, pride, and
tacit envy, attitudes which are condemned in all religions as "sin" or even "mortal sin".
Intolerance, fanaticism andreligious hatred are "destructive to the foundation of human
solidarity"4 profoundly contrary to the spirit of true religion: Baha’u’llah5, the Founder of
-the Baha’i Faith, called it "a world-devouring fire", "a desolating affliction"6, and
impressed upon his followers that "The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not
a cause of enmity or dissension."7 ‘Abdu’l-Baha even went so far as...
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