Too Much Religion?

Religious schools are often feared for promoting "too much religion." But is that a bad thing?
Is "too much religion" a bad thing? I touched this topic recently, but I want to approach it from a different angle. I spent part of this morning reading The Atlantic article, "What ISIS Really Wants." (It is well worth an hour's reading and reflection.) Writer Graeme Wood begins the article noting how little most American's know about the motivations of ISIS; later he makes it clear that President Obama's comment that ISIS "isn't Islamic" reflects little truth. Those in and flocking to join ISIS do so precisely because ISIS is attempting to follow Islamic teachings to the letter - they intend to purify the Muslim world, enslave or behead infidels, and anticipate Armageddon. Perhaps a majority of the world's population would say ISIS reflects the problem of "too much religion."

Without a doubt, religious views can lead to serious public conflict. Historically, three primary solutions have been offered to "tame" religious conflict.

  • 1) The traditional and often popular method: kill the opposition.

  • 2) One offered from within the Christian faith. The American founders proposed some sort of a separation of political powers from the direct use of religious communities (in biblical language, this was the separation of Caesar's power to wield the sword from the Church's other concerns). The goal was to insure that disagreements over Truth would not be settled by the use of force, but this also necessitated that government (left with the sword) could not affirm any broad view of Truth either. This view of peace allowed for (and even required) strong religious communities who would nurture children with strong moral and civic character.

  • 3) A view offered from "secular" philosophy: make the secular state the central ideological value of the nation by asserting that religion is only relevant to one's "private" life, which leaves the public sphere to be the realm of "non-religious" ideology. Key to this view, free secular education was an instrument of the state to teach children its view of tolerance while also insuring that children didn't become "too religious" by attending parentally chosen religious schools.

While ISIS is an obvious example of #1's method of dealing with religious difference, it's solution only seems good to those who don't value human liberty. If #3 aligns most closely with the idea "too much religion is a bad thing," is it the best solution of our world's religious dilemmas? I will argue (as you might expect), "No."

America transitioned from a near #2 at its founding to a solid #3 by the 1960's - where it now wavers under pressure from the school choice movement. Though America has peacefully absorbed more religious diversity than any other nation, I do not believe this "religious peace" is an endorsement of method #3. While this method fosters shallower ideological beliefs that can lead to conflict, it also fosters shallower commitments and convictions in other areas of life. America is a nation crumbling from a lack of moral and ideological substance… or at least the moral and ideological substance is "self pleasure focused" rather than socially or "other" focused. In the ISIS article, Mr. Wood argues that the greatest weakness of the ISIS vision is that it is internally unsustainable. The ISIS "state" will have no international friends, only unfriendly "borders," and miserable citizens who live with little liberty. He believes that the ISIS dream will over time crumble from the inside as much as it will be destroyed from outside opposition. Similarly, the secularist's vision of peace degrades over time because it doesn't provide the philosophic resources that a liberty based society needs to survive.

If the reader has followed my train of thought, the question arises, "Can 'too much' of some religions' be a bad thing?" I would have to say "yes" - but it isn't for government to decide between "good ones" and "bad ones." Each religion will "shine" before the world through the cultures they build. Individuals are obligated to live consistently with the ideology that aligns most closely with Truth! Too much religion
can be a bad thing, but it depends on which religion! Also, it depends upon whether one is "in" or "out" of that religion… Regardless, liberal governments are to stay out of religious choices and maintain the role of legislating actions, not beliefs.
blog comments powered by Disqus