In secular Western societies, where faith should be part of the private area and images of terror in the name of religion roll into the living room by television, religion has become an unapologetic black sheep. In fact, religion has become a mystery for those not involved. Something that is impossible to understand even a little about. A force of damaging power, conflict, under pressure and reduction, as populists would say.
Therefore, if you wouldn’t know any better, you would truly believe that any religion is a backwards system causing disastrous troubles and indoctrination. With the Islam making the most trouble of them all, as some people might think. The headlines in the news present the living proof.
Unfortunately, in today’s Western world, religion is mainly described judgementally, based on little knowledge about religion.
The holy books are used as the main source of information in getting to know the three monolithic religions -Christianity, Islam and Judaism-. A way of thinking that is in no way wrong. Still, in understanding religion, the holy books will not bring all the answers.
The conceptual part of religion is highly essential to know in understanding more about any religion.
To get some perspective, here are three non-religious facts that will help you understand the concept of religion.
Religion is about believing
A lot of people in Western countries feel comfortable with the acceptance of one common truth. Above all, most Western countries are secular. The acceptance of science as the common and only truth has become the standard.
Religions are experienced as incompatible with the scientific truth. Also known as the on-going debate between science and religion in which questions are raised about the proof of the religious history.
What is overlooked in the science/religion discussion is the fact that religion is based on a personal choice and can’t be compared to the scientific development of knowledge. Truth is that all religions are based on an ideological framework and have centuries-old history and traditions. The values and faith deriving from that history and traditions are what a religion accepts as the truth. In fact, it’s the believing of that truth.
Unfortunately, religion is easily put into question in Western societies, as it shows in the science/ religion discussion.
Point is: no one can decide what is the truth for someone else. As a consequence, no one can judge someone else truth.
Agreement or disagreement with the values of any believe system depends on your own values. No one can decide for others how to live and what to accept as your values.
In other words, an outsider of any religion is not able to say if your truth is right or wrong. So is the person who believes: any Christian is not able to say that the Christian religion he or she’s believing should also be the truth for non-Christian people.
Also, no outsider can judge who is a good Jew or a bad Christian. Not any religious person can judge how other non-religious persons should live.
Simply said: religion is something that exists, a personal belief accepted as the truth. As an outsider, religion or non-religious thinking leaves no space for judgemental gestures about being right or wrong, true or not true. It’s just as it is. You believe in it or you don’t.
Every religion is divers
Off course there’s a clear-cut distinction between Christianity, Islam and Judaism. Still, without doubt it’s impossible to describe the Muslim, Jew or Christian.
The diversity of Christianity is in Western countries widely known and accepted. This is not the case for the Islam and Judaism.
Especially the diversity of Islam is less accepted in Western countries. Muslims are mainly seen as one. Stereotyped as the man having a beard and praying five times a day. The women wearing a burka and being submissive to the man all the time.
For Jews, the diversity is better known but still stuck in labels. Jews are mostly linked to diamonds and Israel.
In reality, it’s extremely hard to define one Jewish person, or one Muslim or one Christian. In fact, it is not even possible.
What is used, as a label, is in fact a category in which all different branches are represented. Including gradations from liberal to orthodox. The category has a communal core like for Muslims the belief in Allah and the story of the prophet Mohammed. But again, the diversity in the category is immense.
Because of its diversity, it’s hard to say exactly what Judaism, Islam or Christianity is because the meaning of the religion is based on interpretations. Read more: Shabbat with Kanye West.
It’s about interpretation
None of the holy books describes in detail how Christianity, Judaism or Islam should be practice in daily life, in relationships, in politics etc. If that would be the case, anyone reading the Thora, Quran or Bible should behave exactly the same way. Reality is different: not every Christian woman wears long skirts, not every Muslim prays five times a day and not every Jewish man has peyotes.
Every religion is diverse, based on the interpretation of the holy books.
In fact, religion is a frame that leaves space for multiple interpretations. The core is solid, but the interpretation of the practice is immense. Diversity is the consequence of the interpretation.
Especially when it comes to politics, none of the holy books describes how politics should be practised. In religious countries, like Iran, the state has decided how the relationship between politics and society should be mastered, based on the ideology of religion. Read more here.
In the interpretation of religion, religions are adaptive to circumstances. Meaning that they change over time. The core remains the same while the practice is adaptive to circumstances. The practice and position of religion in society can change over time. When and how changing occurs is a product of the developments in society at a current time.