Promoting good relations between religions

Red heartshaped tree - Fraser Watts
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There are often tensions between people of different religions. A recent feature of this is that there have been increasing allegations that people or groups are hostile to a particular religious group, or phobic of them.

I suggest that tensions are often heightened by such accusations of religious intolerance. Even where there is some truth in those accusations, I fear that making the accusations in a very public way often makes relations worse rather than better. The allegations often inflame tensions.

Paradoxically, I think that religion can actually help to heal tensions between different religious groups. Mystics in all religions often find they have a lot in common.

There are often close connections between a religion and a particular ethnic group. Muslims and Jews, for example, belong to an ethnic group as well as (to a greater or lesser extent) to a particular religious group.

Many tensions that appear to be about religion are not obviously about ‘religion’ in any specific sense. For example, tensions are more likely to arise about secular and cultural aspects of Judaism and Islam than about anything specifically religious. However, the religious communities may be able to do something to heal these suspicions and divisions.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all ‘Abrahamic’ religions. They all have roots in ancient Judaism and revere the Hebrew Bible. All three religions can respect Jesus and Muhammad, at least as great religious prophets.

My point is that there is more mutual understanding and goodwill between the specifically religious wings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, than there is among their secular extensions.  Though there are important differences between these religions they also have much in common. Religious people understand that shared inheritance better than secular people.

Psychology can also make a different kind of contribution to healing suspicions about religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as it can shed light on how these suspicions arise. Tensions often involve stigmatising people from other faiths. That always involves building up stereotypes that would be undermined by actual acquaintance.

Tensions between different religious groups often involve simplistic black-and-white thinking. For example, it is easy to assume that all Jews, or all Muslims, are essentially the same, and to categorise people as all-good, or all-bad. Making people aware of how these stereotyping suspicions and hostilities arise can weaken their grip, and can point the way to how they can be overcome.