In the midst of his negotiations in the Middle East for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Tony Blair made the following comment regarding his dealings with religious extremists: “These people say that they’re doing it in the name of God, so we can’t say that it doesn’t matter.”
Blair’s aid followed with a similar line of thinking:
“You can’t hope to understand what’s happening in the world if you don’t know that religion is a very important force in people’s lives,” says Ruth Turner, 37, formerly a top aide to Blair in 10 Downing Street… “You can’t make the world work properly unless you understand that, while not everyone will believe in God or have a spiritual life, a lot of people will.”
Similar points have been made about the centrality of religion in the future of our world by Douglas Johnson on a recent episode of Speaking on Faith. Johnston is president and founder of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. He’s also the co-editor of Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft. If we want to keep weapons of mass destruction away from religious extremists, Johnson advocates engaging religious leaders, especially in countries where religious leaders wield political power.
Each of these examples show that religion and people of faith have a key place in our future. Many of our problems come when religious extremism is mixed with nationalism: a radical love of one’s nation and subsequent xenophobia mixed with the belief that God grants his wholehearted support can make for huge problems. There is a need for moderating religious leaders to deflate some of this tension, to build dialogue and understanding, and to ensure that no one’s religion or rights are trampled in the process.
You may have heard that Dunkin’ Donuts recently pulled a commercial with Rachel Ray, Rachel Ray of all people, because she was wearing a “scarf” that some conservative bloggers linked with support of religious extremism. It is this kind of disrespect and misunderstanding that cripples our politics, policy, and potentially our future.
As a person of religious faith I would never want all Christians to be equated with the crusaders, just as Muslims would never want to be equated with terrorists and other extremists. It is my hope that moderating religious voices can help diffuse the misinformation and misunderstandings that drive unnecessary wedges of fear between people who aren’t all that different since we all want the same thing: freedom to worship God as we see fit in our respective nations in peace.