Intention and Disconnect
One cannot approach the concept of grace either objectively or subjectively without including the religious community. Indeed, many do not even attempt to define the concept of grace outside of a religious and theological construct. I have asked you to consider it a form of living but today we will discuss it not as an inevitable part of one’s spirit of living but as it relates to organized religion and its followers. Why? Because often the religions of the world have become stumbling blocks to grace, especially when seen through a subjective lens which is our perspective in discussing grace this week.
Beyond Intractability was developed and is still maintained by the University of Colorado Conflict Information Consortium. The missions of the Consortium and, more specifically, the Beyond Intractability project reflect the convergence of two long-standing streams of work. The first is an exploitation of the unique abilities of Web-based information systems to speed the flow of conflict-related information among those working in the field and the general public. The second is an investigation of strategies for more constructively addressing intractable conflict problems — those difficult situations which lie at the frontier of the field.
We will begin our discussion with a quote from the Beyond Intractability website: “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, a casual glance at world affairs would suggest that religion is at the core of much of the strife around the globe. Often, religion is a contentious issue. Where eternal salvation is at stake, compromise can be difficult at or even sinful. Religion is also important because, as a central part of many individuals’ identity, any threat to one’s beliefs is a threat to one’s very being. This is a primary motivation for ethno-religious nationalists. … However, the relationship between religion and conflict is, in fact, a complex one. Religiously-motivated peace builders have played important roles in addressing many conflicts around the world.
“Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation. Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God’s will to fruition. Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God’s wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God’s will.”
Manichean may be a word unfamiliar to you but its meaning is how many people view the world and try to live their lives. Manichean comes from the word Mani, which is the name of an apostle who lived in Mesopotamia in the time frame of 240 ACE, who taught a universal religion based on what we now call dualism. If you believe in the Manichean idea of dualism, you tend to look at things as having two sides that are opposed. To Manicheans, life can be divided neatly between good or evil, light or dark, or love and hate.
In other words, in an attempt to live their doctrines of peace and love, people tend to think with a narrow field and view the world as either black or white. Human beings are complex creatures and no one is one-dimensional. In other words, no one person is all anything. In our intention to live a doctrine of love and peace, we allow our subjective narrowness to trip us up.
To be certain, some things are either right or wrong. You cannot murder someone halfway. A person is either killed or alive. However, the quality of life then comes into question and such is often what leads people to commit suicide. Rather than offer grace, their expectations, based upon their belief system, suffocates any grace they might find.
So should we assume religion is the problem and not the answer? Absolutely not! Religions tend to connect us and remind us of that which we are deep inside. They are, I believe, most necessary to life. Religions offer us ways to show, recognize, and live grace. Life is hard but grace makes it not only possible but worthwhile.
Quoting David Smock, the Beyond Intractability website offers one solution to consider in finding grace amid all this conflict and discord. “Religion is inherently conflictual, but this is not necessarily so. Therefore, in part, the solution is to promote a heightened awareness of the positive peace building and reconciliatory role religion has played in many conflict situations. More generally, fighting ignorance can go a long way. Interfaith dialogue would be beneficial at all levels of religious hierarchies and across all segments of religious communities. Where silence and misunderstanding are all too common, learning about other religions would be a powerful step forward. Being educated about other religions does not mean conversion but may facilitate understanding and respect for other faiths.”
We all have intentions and the faith-based communities of the world are no different. However, when need to give closer attention to our efforts and revitalize them every day. Grace might very well be the key to world peace and it certainly makes each of our lives better. Rather than being the problem, grace is the answer.