What unites the world’s faiths is more important than what separates them

Christmas is (almost) here again. It’s a good time of year to reflect a bit on matters of religion and faith, even if you’re a self-described agnostic, as I am.

To be an agnostic is not necessarily to be hostile to religion or faith. Often, to be agnostic is to be a student of religion and faith – to have the desire to examine why human beings are religious and what the implications of religions and faith are on society, for better and for worse.

Like many agnostics, I’m sometimes disturbed and even angered when people use reasons of faith to bring distress upon others by treating neighbours as undesirables for being of the “wrong” religious affiliation or for being attracted to the “wrong” gender; to uproot entire families and communities for being in the “wrong” place; to commit acts of violence; to keep an entire gender or caste in a state of submission and denying them control of their own destiny; to discourage people from asking tough questions or  thinking for themselves; or to use others for sexual pleasure under threat of being ostracized or damned for eternity if they refuse to submit or call the police.

That is by no means the full picture of religion. Far from it.

For millions of Canadians, faith is a valuable contribution to their quality of life. Religious services bring families and communities together, allowing people to visit with friends and family members every Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and to celebrate births and marriages and mourn losses together. Religious organizations provide much-needed humanitarian services in inner cities and remote villages, and sometimes speak up for the rights of those who lack the means of defending themselves. Research shows that people of strong faith are often happier with their lives, and that children who pray appear to gain some personal benefit from it. Religion even enriches our culture through the beauty of architecture, music and ceremony.

The connection between religion and culture is quite strong, as illustrated by the two world maps below. The first shows the world’s linguistic boundaries, the second shows its religious boundaries.

World linguistic boundaries

World linguistic boundaries

World religion map

Religious boundaries of the world

The strong correlation between religion and language is evident.

It strongly suggests that all of the world’s major faiths – and even agnosticism and atheism — arise from the same roots: the need for a sense of community and belonging that is hard-wired into the human race, and the burning desire to understand how and why life exists and to understand the mysteries of the universe.

What resulted from those common needs took on different names and cultural flavours in different parts of the world: Christianity in much of Europe and the lands settled by European immigrants (Catholicism in cultures with Latin linguistic roots; Protestantism in cultures with Germanic linguistic roots); Judaism in what is now Israel and among the Jewish communities in many other lands; Islam in the Middle East and south and central Asia; Hindu in what is now India; Buddhism in east and southeast Asia, and so on.

To say that there are “right” and “wrong” faiths is like saying that there are “right” and “wrong” languages. All have important cultural value.

While Christmas is predominantly a Christian holiday, it’s a valuable time for all to give some thought to matters of religion and faith, and how what unites the world’s faiths is more important than what separates them.

To all and to each, a very happy Christmas, Season’s Greetings, and best wishes.

Off-topic stuff: I’ve updated my earlier post about the now-former Howard Johnson hotel on Ellice Ave. to reflect the fact that it is no longer part of that franchise. Plus, if you enjoyed the post about YouTubers helping to keep Winnipeg television history alive, you’ll enjoy the new videos I’ve posted there, including a rare clip from a local TV game show from nearly half a century ago.


About theviewfromseven
A lone wolf and a bit of a contrarian who sometimes has something to share.

One Response to What unites the world’s faiths is more important than what separates them

  1. The maps are not too consistent. For example, the world language breakdown has many problems: in the Republic of Moldova, the main language is Romance rather than Slavic. The Amerindian languages do not all fall into the same classification. Basque has not been proven to be related to the Caucasian languages (e.g. Georgian).

    The religion map is off in many accounts. It oversimplifies and leaves out religious pockets. Sri Lanka is NOT primarily Hindu, it has an overwhelming Buddhist population.

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