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Lewis Donohew: It seems as if religion may promote both the development of civilization and conflict


Why do so many people seem to assume it is their duty to enforce what they interpret as the shalts and shalt nots of their religion?

In the interpretation of ancient scrolls by scholars of various religions leanings, certain acts are said to be “against God’s law.” But how many of these “wrongdoings” are supposed to be punished by ordinary people? Isn’t there supposed to be a “judgment day” in some of the religions—Christian, for example—when it is their God who makes and enforces these “laws”?

It seems to me to be the height of arrogance that people take it upon themselves to execute these “laws.”

Experts say ISIS is not a religious organization at all, but a group of gangsters and terrorists who are grabbing for power and glory (Wikimedia Photo)

Experts say ISIS is not a religious organization at all, but a group of gangsters and terrorists who are grabbing for power and glory (Wikimedia Photo)

One believer who knocked on my door a couple of years ago told me she believed every word of her Bible was true. I asked if she believed women who commit adultery should be stoned to death. She thought about that for awhile and finally agreed that the execution of some laws had been softened over time.

We live in a society created by our forefathers as a democracy, guided by laws not passed by religious figures in a theocracy, but by the citizens themselves. We have a constitution drafted by the laity to guide us. These laws passed by civilians, when head to head with interpretations of religious laws, are supposed to prevail and to be enforced by officials also chosen by the laity.

But many appoint themselves as enforcers. A man shoots up a Planned Parenthood center and kills three people. A doctor who carries out legal abortions is shot to death in his church. Fourteen more are killed and 21 wounded by a couple who until recently did not appear to be a threat to anyone, but it turns out were sympathetic with ISIS.

Experts say ISIS is not a religious organization at all, but a group of gangsters and terrorists who are grabbing for power and glory, with their extreme interpretation of religion masking their cutthroat ways.

It executes “infidels,” including members of its own religion who do not follow its extreme direction. If it were a war over religion it wouldn’t be the first, of course. Centuries earlier were the Crusaders who pretty much did the same thing. But Civilization is said to have made some progress since then. Those persons I have known in the Middle East and in this country who observe the Moslem faith are nothing like them.

I have heard people say that it is religion, with its promises of rewards and punishments, that has allowed civilizations to develop. Over this same period, however, more people have died from religious wars and punishments than from any other cause. I don’t know if we can have religion without conflict. Both the pro and con statements about religion may well be true.

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Lewis Donohew retired from the University of Kentucky College of Communications in 1999 after nearly 35 years of service and having earned a national reputation as a communications scholar and researcher. Now down on his farm growing grapes and living close to the earth, he contemplates issues of the day from a lifetime of experience and a love of the land.


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