Opinion: Religious Fanaticism Takes Root Through How Children Are Taught

April 20, 2004

Source: The Christian Science Monitor


On April 20, 2004 The Christian Science Monitor ran an opinion piece by Ghassan Rubiez, an Arab-American social scientist based in Washington, who has spent much of his life working in and around the Middle East, on religion's role in Middle East conflict. Rubiez writes, "Religion can become a bridge of understanding among people or a wall of separation, depending on whether the guiding force in the faith is unconditional love or unconditional, literal dogma. Children learn fanaticism by imitating adults...All too often...due to ignorance, political insecurity, or the misinterpretation of scripture, children are taught that other people's beliefs are lies. Children who are thus indoctrinated build a mental wall around their community and start to think of people from other religions as dangerous. This form of prejudice is quite common, even in societies where racism, sexism, and nationalistic chauvinism are generally rejected. When I worked for the World Council of Chuches, one theologian once shared a candid thought with me: 'In a sense, literal religion can be fratricidal by structure.' He meant that when dogma is taken too literally, it carries the seeds of violence, which are all too easily exploited by those in political power. This is nowhere more apparent than in the Middle East. Centuries of political intimidation have convinced most Middle Easterners to avoid critical thinking in interpreting the sacred word. Religious authorities - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim - have too often used their power over their communities by discouraging genuine and full dialogue among communities of faith."