I have heard numerous arguments against religion. A friend of mine once dismissed religion on the grounds that ‘it divides people’. I’ve heard that argument before and after that conversation I was compelled to put some thought into it. Following are some thoughts on that argument.

Religion does divide people. That is true. However, I prefer the word separate rather than divide and you will see later why. Religion does group people into different sects. Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus. These differences sometimes can cause disagreements and hostility between people of different religious backgrounds. Wars have been waged in the past and present in the name of religion and often times the resentment follows through generations to come.

But here’s the thing people tend to overlook. Religion divides people; but so does race, ethnicity, nationality, political philosophies (democracy vs communism), language (Quebec vs English Canada) etc. Look at the wars that have been waged in the past century. At least 60 million people have died in armed conflicts in the past 100 years. How many of these wars were ‘religious’? Did the Americans bomb Hiroshima for religious reasons? Did Stalin massacre thousands for religious reasons? Did the genocide in Rwanda happen for religious reasons?

The number of people that been killed in so called ‘religious wars’ is miniscule compared to those in secular wars. So the point is, why insult religion and put down its beauty by making it responsible for our disunity? Look at all the hate that has resulted because of democracy. I’ve never heard any one ridicule democracy or blame wars on it. Why the double standard?

Here is what people need to understand. Humans are inherently different from one another. No matter what you do, people will disagree over one matter or another and will always have different opinions. As humans we all have an identity, a set of values or a philosophy which suits our rational faculties. We cling onto people who share this identity and pledge allegiance to them. No matter what one tries to do, this cannot be changed and is in fact something that God has programmed into us and is there for a reason. God says in the Quran,

“If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one people: but they will not cease to dispute” (Quran 11:118)

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you nations and tribes, that you may know one another” (Quran 49:13)

I gather three things from the above verses. One the confirmation that we have been purposely made different and have been split into nations and tribes. Second that disputation is also a part of our nature and even if we were one nation we’d continue to dispute over religious matters. Lastly, the purpose behind our divisions: to learn from each other and not to despise one another. Living in peace and learning to co-exist is a divine trial and we as humans ought to live up to it.

If anything, religion unites people that are divided. Look at the history of the Arabian Peninsula before and after Islam for example. The Arabs had a strong sense of tribalism and maintaining the honour of their particular tribe was of utmost importance to them. This resulted in never ending wars where one tribe was always trying to take revenge and shedding blood in order to remain ‘honourable’. After the advent of Islam, not only was the Arabian Peninsula united but along with it were Eastern Europe, North Africa, India and Western China.

‘Okay fine, religion isn’t the only thing that divides people and maybe it can unite people sometimes too. But what about hostility, hate and resentment between people of different faiths? Wouldn’t our world be more peaceful without all this religious bigotry? One less reason to hate’

What people don’t understand when they ask the above question is the following: Religion isn’t the cause of hate amongst people; religion is the justification for hate. No religion inherently preaches hate. No religion inherently teaches one to be hateful to others; they preach the opposite in fact. Yes, religious people differ but differences don’t equal hate. Theological disagreements don’t usually amount to hate and deep rooted resentment.

Hate is a human problem. It is a manifestation of anger, pride, greed, struggle for power and other human flaws. The Palestinians don’t hate Israelis because they are Jewish; they hate them because they are oppressed by them. Even in that case, religion is used as a justification for hatred.

Some people argue that a world without religion might not be perfect, but at least better than what it is today. I argue that we’d be in a position that is far worse as the good that religious values bring far out weight the divisions attributed to religion. The divisions would remain the same even if you remove religion. People would find other excuses to justify hate and oppression. Removing religion would just rid the world of the good that it brings about.

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