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All images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A friend with Utah Baha’i sent me a link to an animated map which shows the growth of world religions over the last five thousand years, and does it in about a minute.  The map is informative, and is done by the site Maps of War–this recalls to mind a common argument against faith of any sort, that it inevitably leads to clashes over whose God is better.

Several months ago I was invited to participate in Salt Lake Community College’s Doing Democracy conference, and had the distinct pleasure to meet award-winning journalist Eliza Griswold.  She shared that she was raised an Episcopal, and has specialized in conflict areas in North Africa–particularly focusing on clashes between Christians and Muslims.  One thing she consistently sees, she said, is that conflict begins as a political issue, and leaders involve religion as a political tool.  When left to their own devices, without undue influence from political leaders and warlords, people with faith have a tendency to get along with each other and support each other–particularly in regards to immediate, practical concerns (sharing a community wood stove, for example).

Professor David Ford, Director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme, hears the argument all the time that religion causes and sponsors conflict.  In an interview he did discussing this topic (A Very Short Introduction to Theology), Dr. Ford points out that conflict including religion comes as a result of rejecting tenets of belief, rather than exploring them.  The Programme focuses on resolving tensions and cementing friendships by supporting productive, respectful encounters with different faiths, engaging participants through scripture comparison and shared projects.

A Rabbi friend speaks quite a bit about religious conflicts, and how destructive conflict is contrary to the overwhelming majority of faiths.  He points out that the Pharaoh who welcomed Joseph and his family into Egypt–and saved them–was a descendent of Ishmael.  In turn, Joseph and his family were friends and saviors of Pharaoh, his people, and his country, and both families were together for generations.  Ishmael is the Abrahamic progenitor of Islam, and Joseph came from the line of Isaac–so, my friend points out, from the earliest of times Jews and Muslims loved and supported each other.  He echoes Ms. Griswold–faith supports conflict only when it becomes a political tool.

All that being said, I still enjoy John Lennon’s Imagine.

Since the dawn of time faith has been used as a political tool, and it has also motivated all the greatest artistic, technical, and social achievements of history.  Sincere, heartfelt faith is all about family, and the family is the stability and building block of society.