Can religion unite a country

Why religions are globally something that divides instead of something that connects them today

Globalization has turned religions into devices that can be divided, as even the Dalai Lama has recently said. Progress, peace and openness in an open society need the separation of church and state.

During 25 years of humanitarian aid and international cooperation, my encounter with religion remained ambiguous. Positive: Every hundred kilometers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo you met a father from Wallonia or Alsace, who ran a hospital with donations from Europe, read mass on Sunday, decorated a tropical Christmas tree in the church for Christmas and did not hurt himself was to help with a difficult birth at three in the morning. Or evangelical and Buddhist aid organizations in the refugee camps of Southeast Asia, which looked after the blind, disabled and tuberculous, whom no one else would have helped. All of this selflessly, at most combined with discrete proselytizing.

I found it negative: people who never had a chance to learn to think independently. Persuading someone that a triune God or the cosmos controls their life leads to an attitude of endurance. Better than enduring would be the question why, in a country rich in natural resources like the Congo, after sixty years of independence, religious lone fighters have to run the health system instead of the state. Similar to the Buddhist educated Cambodians who spent a lot of time and money improving karma but did not defy the Khmer Rouge or the present strong man.

«Faith that hinders progress»?

At the headquarters of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in New York and in their field offices, a decline in religious belief was observed from the turn of 1989. In favor of a commitment to global human rights and ethical environmental behavior, which is not mentioned in any holy book. In the past, no one in the UN wore their worldview on their necks or wrists - neither the cross nor the Ganesha nor the Buddha - but now many work colleagues are distancing themselves from the "belief that inhibits progress" in their home country: India is not because of, but in spite of Hinduism , the oldest religious family still in existence with over a dozen gods and goddesses, has become an emerging country, it was said, for example. Gandhi wanted a secular state in which Muslims and Sikhs should also have a place. It is a devastating mistake that the Hindu faith under Narendra Modi has been brought into line with his party.

Theravada Buddhism, a religion without God, once the ascetic counter-movement to Hinduism, is also a little development-promoting belief in today's Laos or Cambodia. The typical Buddhist preoccupies himself too much, does not judge anything or anyone, which is a bad prerequisite for thirst for action.

Violent self-criticism of Islam came from Iraqi colleagues in Baghdad after the last Gulf War. Michel Aflaq was right: people who literally clung to an unchangeable book from the early Middle Ages could never invent something groundbreaking. Many Iraqis were so tired of the prohibition of evolutionary theory in school and the never-ending sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites that they sought their way out in Richard Dawkins ’" The God Delusion ".

Sharp self-criticism of the "ineffective" Christianity was common among Rwandan UN officials. The Catholic Church, associated with the Hutu party for thirty years, had neither turned backward migrants into independent thinking people, nor protested during the three-month genocide, but denigrated the “godless” Tutsi from the pulpit, it said.

Only colleagues from Japan, Korea, and China, who had mostly grown up in neo-Confucian families and had benefited from the spectacular economic upswing in East Asia since the end of colonialism, did not hear any self-criticism of their radically this-worldly philosophy, but much agreement with the majority of the UNDP staff, the seculars.

What religions have in common

Theologians will object that a belief not only serves the purpose of conflict prevention or the development of poor countries, but also offers the members of its community - each in his own way - meaning in life, transcendence, spirituality. Since the differences between the offers of the more than three thousand religions, denominations, sects and cults have been sufficiently researched by religious studies, here are four things in common:

First, almost all religions explain what was once incomprehensible to believers. The origin of the universe, the earth, of man, why there is day and night, lightning and thunder and what happens to us after death. Second, almost all religions try to convey meaning to their members. By representing a good life on earth as a preliminary stage to a carefree continued existence after death or a higher rebirth. Third, almost all religions tell their believers how to live, often under threat of deteriorated karma or hell. This with very similar commandments and prohibitions, the rules of life of Hinduism, the eightfold path of Buddhism, the Christian Ten Commandments or the five pillars of Islam. Fourth, almost all religions require their believers to participate in rituals and festivals. To maintain the sense of community and group identity, also to give structure and quality to the arc of life with ceremonies, music, dances, meditation.

In conversations with priests, imams and Buddhist monks, I often had the impression that clergymen, for example in Iraq or Thailand, feared their own irrelevance in the face of the tidal wave of secular ideas on their believers' smartphones and that is precisely why they did not want to hear about reforms. Because many of their functions are performed by others today: Because most religious dogmas have turned out to be false, science today explains the world. Educated people who no longer believe in things that are not supported by anything explain to their children the meaning of life in this world, for example: You live in order to be happy, to improve your society and to work for real human progress.

Modern parents, who cannot bear to be forced to act correctly for fear of punishment, forego supernatural judges and raise their children with the categorical imperative and human rights. And people who live a spirituality without God enjoy traditional festivals and much that world religions have contributed to culture, even without a creed.

Religion and divisions

Despite numerous similarities in teaching, rival church administrations divide society in many developing countries. With hundreds of thousands of jobs, opportunities for advancement and pension funds around the world, their instinct for self-preservation is as tenaciously aimed at spreading and raising money as with UN agencies. In order to survive for millennia, religions in the past submitted to or ruled the secular elites. From the Buddhism of Emperor Ashoka to the war Buddhism of Japan, the state use of Confucianism in China and Korea, Christianity under the late Roman emperors and then the European royal houses to the legal schools of Islam, which almost always regarded themselves as an integral part of the respective state power.

The use of religion to win democratic majorities is currently increasing, for example in Russia, India, Turkey and the USA. In pretty much all theaters of war of the 21st century - Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma - religion is the explosive. In addition, an unreflective belief makes integration more difficult for many migrants in the country of arrival. Globalization has turned religions into devices that can be divided, even the Dalai Lama has recently found. Progress, understood as the peaceful development towards an open society, requires the separation of church and state and less organized religiosity. Theological concerns that humanity will collapse without fear of God are unfounded. In Nordic countries, where crime is low, where the best care is for the disabled, the sick and the poor and where most of the work is done for peacebuilding, development cooperation and environmental protection, the majority of the population no longer attends church services - but it is still lit at Christmas, this pre-Christian custom, in the circle of the family on pine trees white candles.

Toni Stadler studied colonial history and biology. The 25-year career at ICRC, UN, OECD and EDA / SDA took him to Niger, Thailand, Iraq, Cambodia, Angola, Rwanda and the DRC.