The confessed spiritual seeker, the agnostic, the atheist, and those that claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious’ often site atrocities committed in the name of the divine under various religious organizations as proof that religion is cruel and violent at heart. Others claim that it is not religion itself, but rouge followers that make it a thing of violence. They site teachings of peace, kindness, and unconditional love as support. For me, the competing evidence proves organized religion can go both ways.
Religion is still being used as a weapon, often using mutual exclusivity as justification for the mistreatment of others. The notion of mutual exclusivity, the belief that only one religion is correct, is the fuel for people’s hate. Nothing good comes out of it. When only one religion, one sect, one denomination is correct and the rest are doomed to be condemned in the next life, there isn’t much hope for how people treat each other in this life.
Let’s use the Christian tradition as an example. As a Christian, say you were to encounter a non-believer, someone that you fully believed would go to hell. There are two possible scenarios:
1) You would treat them as a heathen sinner that needed to be saved. Being the good Christian you are, you would try to save them and in the process condemning their way of life due to your own unique view of the world. But this culturally specific view is instead interpreted as divine truth rather than something that is subjective.
2) You treat that person like the demon you believe them to be. You work to create their living hell.
Mutual exclusivity is defended as the one way to preserve religious tradition. For fear that without it, all religions would become one muddled spiritual puddle with no real substance. While I am confident that respect for different traditions and beliefs (pluralism) would not lead to the loss of the world religions, I must ask which is worse: A muddled system of spiritual beliefs from many sources? Or making life a living hell for those that don’t think the way we do? If a religion must be preserved by condemning others, is it worth preserving?