Dialogue is imperative to improve relations between people of different faiths and none. Too often religion has been a catalyst and sanctifier of intolerance and conflict. The relationship between people of religious and non-religious affiliations leaves a lot to be desired. Interfaith communications have been primarily a matter of master-slave, king-subject, lord-servant, conqueror-vanquished. The relationship has been characterized by hatred, hostility, mistrust, persecution, oppression, impunity and conflict. Established religions treat unbelievers with indignity and contempt. Mainstream religions are often rallied against faithless traditions and non-believing communities.
Religion is codified to not tolerate or include the other, the non-religious or unbelieving other. This unfortunate situation applies because people of faith mistakenly assume that they have a monopoly on truth, knowledge, and morals. Believers are socialized to dislike or hate non-believers. They are conditioned to regard disbelief in God as a serious crime, a capital offense and, yes, a prohibited habit. Interestingly, a believer in one religion is considered an unbeliever by other religions. The dialogue within the universe of belief has been conceived in terms of faith, theism or religion. Belief in a God has become a criterion for participating in a dialogue. Interfaith or interfaith, not interfaith, dialogue has been the norm. An interfaith dialogue that includes atheists and other non-believers is an exception. But it shouldn’t be. The dialogue project must be inclusive.
The entrenched religious antagonism towards non-religious should come as no surprise. Religious intolerance is rooted in teachings, indoctrinations and traditions. Christian scriptures explicitly describe unbelievers as fools (Psalms 14: 1), that is, people without knowledge or wisdom. Unbelievers are referred to as blind and ignorant (Ephesians 4:18). Belief in the existence of a God is an automatic investor of wisdom and understanding. The scriptures enjoin believers not to have any relationship or equal yoke with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6: 14-18).
The sacred texts sanction the oppression and unequal treatment of non-believers. They make it a virtue to persecute and discriminate against unbelievers. The Islamic holy book contains verses that incite hatred and violence against non-Muslims. The Qur’an enjoins Muslims to attack and kill unbelievers (Sura 3: 151) and to treat them mercilessly. Other verses contain frightening statements of violence and intolerance. For example, sura 2: 191 says, “And kill them (non-Muslims) wherever you find them … kill them.” This is the reward of the disbelievers (non-Muslims). Sura 9: 5 states: “So kill the disbelievers (non-Muslims) wherever you find them, capture them and besiege them, and watch for them in every ambush.
Among Islamic traditions, conversion to Islam is celebrated, but renouncing the Islamic faith is an offense and dishonor to the family. Disorientation of Islam carries the death penalty or a long prison term. Opinions critical of Islam are considered blasphemy and grave breaches.
But it is relevant to note that religion is a mixture of doctrines. There are religious teachings and Bible verses that emphasize love, tolerance, and compassion. But antagonism towards people without religious traditions is rooted in the hateful and immoral teachings and indoctrinations of religions. The time has come to take a critical look at these teachings that undermine interfaith dialogue. Dialogue will transform communication between denominational and non-denominational constituencies. This will turn the transmission or exchange of information between faithless and faithless people into a two-way process. What is happening right now is one-sided, inflexible, one-sided religious communication.
What applies is a monologue, an intense religious monologue. Non-religious people are constantly informed about religion and belief in God. There is no place to inform religious of non-belief or irreligion. Because of this one-way communication, religious continue to languish in prejudice and ignorance of non-religious canons, including humanism, atheism, and free thought. Religious find it difficult to engage in constructive dialogue with non-religious.
In addition, dialogue will transform interfaith relations into a matter of equals, not of inequalities. It will transform interfaith relations into an interaction marked by mutual respect. The dialogue will emphasize shared values and transform the interfaith relationship into an asset and a mechanism to foster peace and development in the country.
Leo Igwe, firstname.lastname@example.org