The context for the quotation was a speech about faith and reason. He wanted to show how reason untethered from faith leads to fanaticism and violence. But is this true of Islam more than any other religion? The history of Islam and Christianity provide much evidence that contradicts this. History does not show Islam as always and everywhere violent, or Christianity as inherently virtuous and peaceful. All religions have their dark side. Christianity has many instances of persecution, violence and brutality against other Christians never mind other faiths and even just people like so-called witches who were seen as different and therefore came under suspicion.
Should we expect things to be different in the 21st century? We can certainly hope so but world events don't support our optimism. At the moment the focus is on Islam which shows us so clearly what extremists and fanatics in any religion or philosophical belief system can do - in fact what any human being can do when they think their way is the only way and their view right while everyone else is wrong. How easy it is for human beings to harden their hearts and turn against one another even when we know that our interconnectedness, that our common origins means we are turning against ourselves.
In the Christian Church today is the feast of the Mother of Sorrows and there is much to be sorrowful about when we look at our world. Many Muslims feel this sorrow very keenly and want to distance themselves from the atrocities of the Islamic State which seems to be motivated only by hate, not even claiming a religious motivation for what it has done. The Muslim Council of Britain is now asking the media to stop using the name Islamic State because it has nothing to do with Islam. They fear reprisals after the beheading of David Haines. Harun Khan, deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said a backlash was experienced virtually every time violence carried out by extremists, who claimed to act in the name of religion, received high-profile media coverage. And so hate is imported into our own communities and we know exacerbated through social media.
Last week Shimon Peres, the former Israeli President met with Pope Francis and suggested “The U.N. has had its time,” “What we need is an organization of United Religions, the U.N. of religions". This is not a new idea but one that has inspired the foundation of many interfaith organisations. The United Religions Initiative, the World Congress of Faiths, the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the Parliament of World Religions are just some of the international bodies working for peace and reconciliation among religions. Then there are the national inter faith bodies like the Interfaith Network here in the UK and Interfaith Scotland here in my own country determined not to let atrocities carried out in the name of religion affect relations elsewhere. But where is the publicity for this?
Today the Muslim Council of Scotland issued a statement condemning the murder of fellow Scot, David Haines and distancing Islam from what the statement calls "the depravity of their warped ideology".
How much publicity has this statement been given? I cannot find it on the BBC news website. Would this not be an
opportunity to counteract the violence that could follow David Haines murder? Would it not be an opportunity to export peace? Meanwhile the many, many people involved in interfaith relations throughout the world carry on quietly trying to make the world a safer place for all of us.