It is no longer considered politically correct to harbour prejudice, let alone to express it. As a society, we are committed to fighting racial, cultural and national prejudices, but what about prejudice against religion?
Our society today appears more inclined to tolerate prejudice toward religion as a whole than prejudice of any other sort. Among groups of otherwise fair minded and tolerant people, religion is easily dismissed as a relic of the past -- a deficient way of understanding the world in comparison to science.
Religion has existed since time immemorial and is here to stay. Religion, much like science, has evolved over time and continues to do so. The evolving nature of religion is a fact overlooked by those who would define it by narrow and outdated conceptions of its past.
A recent article offers an interesting perspective on how to conceive of religion in the 21st century. According to author Daniel Perrell, Representative of the Baha'i International Community to the United Nations, being entirely "for" or "against" religion does little to advance understanding of what religion truly is. Instead of looking to attack or champion religion, it is of greater benefit to collectively examine the way we think about religion and understand its role in society. In building a new social discourse, we will be able to distinguish between true and false expressions of religion, and approach a more unified understanding around the import of religion for contemporary problems.
This social discourse on religion stands to benefit from the same process of reflection pursued in examining science as a body of knowledge. Quoted in the same article, Michael Karlberg, professor from Western Washington University, explains that the advancement of science is, in part, due to the in-depth reflection that gradually defined what kind of knowledge could legitimately claim the name of "science". He further explains that this ongoing reflection on the part of scientists and other collaborators allowed us to "distinguish legitimate science from pseudo-science, or junk science, or any of the spurious things people have historically done in the name of science."
Daniel Perrell, in turn, rightly points out that "astrology and alchemy had to be separated from astronomy and chemistry for civilization to benefit from science". In the same manner, we need social reflection on the topic of religion to be able to separate superstition, fanaticism, and ignorance from legitimate expressions of religion. In learning about what true religion is, we can benefit from what it can contribute towards the progress of humanity and curb acts of ignorance and fundamentalism that are carried out in its name.
Arriving at such a point of collective understanding will certainly be a slow process. And yet, engaging in this process of reflection around religion is a viable way to elevate the presently polarized discourse around the legitimacy of religion in the public sphere. The discussion of religion may one day resemble the openness, and lack of prejudice observed in discussions around science.
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