"what you look for determines what you see
what you focus on determines what you miss
the way you see determines what you are blind to and what you render invisible"
All of us are myopic in our vision. We're conditioned by experience, culture, upbringing, education to look at the world in a particular way and this conditioning can box us into thought processes and perspectives that close us to challenges and other perspectives. A famous example of this is Albert Einstein who actually changed a mathematical equation because he couldn't let go of his conditioned belief in a static universe. He called this his biggest blunder.
I've been very much aware of this in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo affair, In an article in the Scottish Herald journalist Ian McWhirter spoke out strongly in favour of freedom of speech while declaring quite categorically that he was anti-Islam but also anti- Christian, anti- Hinduism, anti- Judaism ........indeed anti-religion. He said this was because he was a humanist though I'm not too sure that follows. For me religion and humanism are not mutually exclusive and I would want to maintain that true religion is humanist at its best. To dismiss religion so readily is to see only its dark side and ignore the contribution of religion to peace, social justice, culture, community support, meaning, value. Religion can encourage people to be aware of the misfortune of others, to pray for them and work to put this concern into practice. It puts before believers an ideal and encourages them to live up to the best they can be. Take this excerpt from the Bahai scriptures:
" be generous in prosperity and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbour and look upon him with a bright and friendly face ..........be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victims of oppression ...... Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a hoeame for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring."
Of course no-one will live up to these ideals perfectly as we are all incomplete and sinful people but it's good to have the ideals placed before us and to know that we have an ideal to strive towards.
It's also true of course that to focus on the positive and idealistic side of religion blinds religious people to its dark side. It's easy to want to render that side of religion invisible. This is dangerous as denial of the negative, oppressive and violent can easily lead to a suppression which will burst out in unacceptable and even violent behaviour. It's important for religion to face up to the negative side of its history - its tendency to exclusiveness and violence, competition, dogmatism, intolerance - all the negatives that lead it to be criticised and rejected. To face these honestly and squarely is healthy and helps those of us who are religious move beyond them to live the positive, acknowledging our own negative tendencies and breaking their power over us.
Of course to see only the bad in religion and the good in humanism and other secular philosophies is eqally shortsighted. Secular philosophies were responsible for many of the atrocities, wars and violations of human rights in the last century and certainly haven't offered the world a better way towards peace and harmony.
To focus on one side to the detriment of the other is to render invisible much of reality. It's to see the world in black and white, to separate it into them and us, to operate an either/or system rather than a both/and. Both/and is just the way things are. There would be no light without dark, no day without night, no man without woman, no peace without war. And because of this everything is interrelated and whether we like it or not we're in solidarity with all human beings and sentient creatures. After the Chalie Habdo affair people wanted to show their solidarity with those who were murdered by proclaiming : Je suis Charlie .............. They could also have said: 'Je suis terrorist' because our fellow human beings expose to all of us the seeds of sin and violence that live within all of us and whether we like it or not we are implicated in
their violence just because we share a common humanity and are interrelated. If one human being can act in such a way any human being can do it. Perhaps its only in facing up to this fact that we can develop the virtues of compassion, love, respect and understanding to ensure that our contribution to the world is a peaceful and not a violent one.