A Comfy Night In

Are religion and extremism any different?

written by Keri Lien

In recent years, religious extremism has become increasingly prevalent in the global conversation. With the presence of extremist groups, the true nature and character of the particular religion and its adherents are often called into question. Therefore, it has become necessary to provide a distinction between a given religious community, and those who seek to wreak havoc on the world under the guise of faith.

What is the difference between religion and extremism?

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Religious extremist groups pose a threat of violence which looms, ever-present, over the world, casting shadows of fear and prejudice.  I will refrain from naming them, as there is no need to give them more publicity than has already been granted them, and because I simply do not believe they are worth the keystrokes.

A religion seeks to provide a framework of the workings of the world, and some way of relating to the cosmic force or forces in the universe. Typically, a religion attempts to provide answers, peace, escape, or some sort of salvation. An extremist group seeks to establish its own agenda based on a deliberately warped understanding, or careless interpretation of the teachings of the belief system they have adopted. Extremism is essentially a corrupt version of religion, a version which is bent to accomplish a particular person’s will.

Although it is likely that you have a particular faith in mind, please be aware, there are multiple religions of which this is true. Many religions and worldviews have been exploited and warped in order to serve the will of an individual or group which harbors malicious intent toward the world at large. 

Extremist groups attempt to enlist others in their cause by manipulating the texts and principles of a religion to legitimize the goals of their regime. Often passages of scriptural texts are taken out of context, with regard both to content and culture, in order to present them as encouraging the group's agenda.  They also appeal to the emotions of the members, stirring up fear and anger, and convincing them that it is righteous and just to respond to those feelings with violence. These groups also use existing structures of fear and prejudice in order to recruit people, and to provoke them to radical acts of violence on the group’s behalf.

"...it must be understood that an 'extreme' can never accurately represent the normative structure of any religion or worldview."

It is important to understand that the corrupt views and actions of an individual or group do not embody the views and practices of the majority of the members of that faith. This is particularly clear when the majority overwhelmingly and explicitly rejects the warped version of their beliefs. Though an extremist group may claim ties to a particular community of faith, it must be understood that an “extreme” can never accurately represent the normative structure of any religion or worldview. Which means, by definition, an extremist group can never accurately represent the whole community to which it claims to belong.

The falsehoods and prejudices which these groups promote are perpetuated when members of the global community neglect to learn about what these religions and people really stand for. This makes it easier for the extremist groups to recruit new members, and for the rest of the world to paint the extremists with the same brush as the majority of the community, instead of distinguishing between the two. It is easier to believe what you are told, than to investigate for yourself, and so people are deceived when they do not seek out the truth for themselves. These groups build their campaigns on the fear and falsehood which is fueled by a common lack of understanding.

Refuse to fuel their campaigns. Refuse to let these groups corrupt your understanding of the people around you and across the world. Refuse to allow the spread of fear, prejudice, and hatred. Refuse. 

We, as discerning human beings, must take it upon ourselves to be responsible for parsing through, and discarding, the false representations of religions which extremist groups thrust upon us. We must understand that our own ignorance can be turned against us, and against our fellow human beings. We must not allow this to happen. It is our responsibility to protect ourselves and those around us from the repercussions of fueling systems of prejudice and violence by our own lack of understanding. Ignorance is not “bliss.” Ignorance is dangerous. Ignorance perpetuates prejudice, and prejudice violence. To end this cycle, we must learn about the religions, cultures, and people around us. Dare to ask questions, and to create a dialogue with those who profess a faith, philosophy, or worldview, which is different from your own.

"Refuse to let these groups corrupt your understanding of the people around you and across the world. Refuse to allow the spread of fear, prejudice, and hatred."

Now is the time to cast aside our fear and to engage with different points of view that challenge, broaden, and refine our own convictions. And understand that the differences in people and the diversity in cultures are necessary and valuable elements of both our local and global communities. We cannot allow our differences to put us at enmity with each other. Humankind simply cannot afford it. What we need now is not division, but unity. Differences and unity are not mutually exclusive, but are instead quite compatible. We need people who think in a variety of ways in order to function as the global community we are. We also need to understand that our differences should not divide us, but should be valued as individual brushstrokes in the same masterful work of art, each one as beautful and important as the rest. 

"What we need now is not division, but unity."

Thanks for reading.

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