The Role of Religious Beliefs in Promoting Social Conflict and War

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, one’s view on the international affairs would suggest that religion is the reason of the strife in many countries. Therefore, today religion remains the most controversial challenge. When the eternal salvation is in danger, it will be difficult and sometimes sinful to find a compromise. However, religion is quite significant, because it is a fundamental part of human identity, and any threat to individual’s belief is a threat to one’s being. Religious beliefs primarily motivate the modern ethno-religious nationalists. Although religion is not the number one cause of conflicts and war, relationship between them is complex with numerous religion-motivated peacebuilders, who continue to play a vital role in addressing conflicts around the globe.

Some religious aspects can become a hidden source of conflict. All religions have an accepted set of principles and beliefs that followers should unquestionably comply with. It often leads to intolerance and rigidity in the face of other convictions and beliefs. However, the dogma is often vague and open for interpretation. Consequently, conflicts can arise even because of correctness of one’s interpretation. There are many situations, where conflicts cannot be ultimately resolved, because there are no arbiters. The winner will be the one whose interpretation will attract more followers. Though the majority of believers have moderate views, they are still complacent about them, while extremists strive to implement their interpretation of God’s will.

Religious extremists contributes to the escalation of the conflicts. They consider radical measures essential in order to fulfill God’s wishes. If the struggle between evil and good continues, it will be hard to justify compromises with the devil. One may decry any sign of moderation considering it a sell-out and rejection of God’s will. Some groups operate using constitutional methods still pursuing intolerant aims. In situations, where a moderate way does not produce desired economic, social, and political outcomes, the populace may choose extreme interpretation for any solution. If religious groups have no legitimate mechanism to express their vision, they will resort to violent means. Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon engage in violent activity; however, they gain supporters through the work of social services when authorities do little for the citizens. Perceived threats to the faith drive the fundamentalist movements of radical Jewish elements and Hindu nationalists. According to Little (1995), religious revivalism is strong in providing the sense of pride. However, in Sudan and Sri Lanka, it generates a powerful illiberal nationalism periodically leading to discrimination. Religious Israeli Kach and Kahane Chai parties and Islamic Jihad of Egypt view violence as a duty (Crocker, Hampson, & Aall, 1997). A person, who calls for violence sees himself/herself as divinely directed. Consequently, obstacles should be completely removed.

Many religions have important and simultaneously conflicting strains of evangelism. Believers are called to spread the God’s word. The efforts to impose Christianity on people caused conflicts during the European colonization. Groups can deny practicing other religions. It partly comes from a strong desire to minimize inferior beliefs that the dominant groups may be introduced to. In the case of Chinese suppression of Christianity, there was no conflict between religions. Rather, authorities viewed religion as a dangerous rival of the civil loyalty. All of these cases occur due to the lack of respect for other beliefs. Displeasure with modernity is the primary drive of religious fundamentalists (Crocker, Hampson, & Aall, 2001). Marginalization of religion in the contemporary society motivates them to restore faith. Therefore, fundamentalists need to purify religion. In recent years, cultural globalization has partly diminished because of this tendency.

Nowadays, contemporaries often blame Western materialism for loose morals and gambling. For example, Islamists from Al-Qaeda claim that the foreign military on the Muslim land and neo-imperialism motivate them to act radically and violently. The liberal solid foundation of the Western culture threatens the tradition of prioritizing a person over the group and questioning the women’s role in the society. Conflicts over abortion and teaching of evolution in colleges are two issues where some people may consider religious tradition violated.

Religious nationalists generate extremist sentiments. Every religious nationalist views religious tradition as closely tied to his/her native land. Any threat to the land or nation will be a threat to the person’s existence. Consequently, religious nationalists have responded to the threat of religion with the help of political entity where faith dominates at the expense of other people. In this context, religious symbols are applied to promote ethnic causes. The modern portrayal and representation of religion usually enhances the conflictual view of religion. Despite the fact that the world mass media pay considerable attention to conflicts and religion, the way in which religion plays a strong peacemaking role is still not identified. Great emphasis on the negative religious aspects and illegitimate activity of religious extremists generate hostility and fear. The tendency to throw such terms as “extremist” and “fundamentalist” carelessly conceals substantial varieties in tactics, purposes, and beliefs.

In heterogeneous societies, religious diversities are a source of potential conflicts. Potential tension will exist since many people do not know or ignore other faiths. However, it does not mean that the conflict will arise. Religion is not always conflictual; however, like race and ethnicity, it helps distinguish individuals and groups from each other. Interreligious dialogue can enhance understanding, and intermediaries may help promote recognition of the positive peacebuilding and conciliatory role that religion continues to play in many conflictual situations in the modern times.