A recent survey of Best Countries, which polled 21,000 people from all over the world, found that the majority of people viewed religion as the “primary source of most global conflict today.” It is designed to shed light on how countries are perceived on a global scale, evaluating 80 countries across 24 rankings, measuring 75 dimensions that have the potential to drive trade, travel and investment and directly affect national economies. One question on the Best Countries survey asked subjects what was the primary source of most global conflict, and the answer was overwhelmingly religion.
The author of an article about the report on religion, Deidre McPhillips, interviewed a woman who was raised by fundamentalist Muslims, Yasmine Mohammed. “The first thing Islam teaches you is to not question, but follow,” Mohammed said. According to McPhillips, what she had to follow was a “Muslim supremacy ideology” that called for violence against anyone who strayed from the ideology of the religion. It advocated full armies that should be prepared to join the fight when and if the caliphate was to rise. Systematic suppression of critical thinking, according to the author, led people to follow submissively and unquestioningly, becoming suicide bombers and in other ways giving their lives for the cause.
If one looks at the conflicts in the world today, all of them are clashes of ideology and many have to do with religion. As I write this, A radical sect of Buddhist nationalists are persecuting the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar; Fueled by its Jewish faith, Israel continues to wage war with Palestine, a Muslim territory; a film that criticizes the Orthodox Church has stirred up violent protests in Russia, and a spurt of child-abuse charges against the Catholic Church has riled many.
Other conflicts, such as the conflict between liberals and conservatives in the United States, although political on the surface, are characterized by the same religious and dogmatic groupthink that one finds in religion. Conservatives are propelled by faith in Christianity and liberals, especially radical liberals, appear to be obsessively driven by a fanatical devotion to what they call “diversity” or “human rights,” but others have termed “political correctness.”
“Religion often becomes the master variable,” noted Sam Harris, a neuroscientist cited by McPhillips. “It provides a unique reward structure. If you believe that the thoughts you harbor in this life and the doctrines you adhere to spell the difference between an eternity spent in fire or one spent on the right hand of God, that raises the stakes beyond any other reward structure on earth.” More than 80% of people surveyed said they believed one’s religion guided their behavior.
We seem to be living in an era that encourages belief in a cause rather than independent thinking. It may be that humans are prone to a tribalism that has always sought to fit in with the mainstream and shunned independent thinkers who did not go along with the tribe. During medieval times Galileo, an astronomer, thought independently and went against Christian ideology when he wrote a paper proclaiming that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the known universe. He was made to apologize for his paper and put in house arrest for the rest of his life.
Sigmund Freud went against the puritanical thinking of the Victorian age in which he lived and wrote about how people had unconscious thoughts about sex and aggression. He also wrote about infantile sexuality, female development and other subjects that caused him to be shunned and eventually to be dismissed.
Most movements, whether they are religious or political, eventually lead to self-righteousness and a will to power. On the other hand, people who live quiet, independent lives, who eschew joining a group but have a support system of friends and relatives, welcome open discussion. Their prime motivation is to be at peace and in harmony with themselves and the world, and they are the least likely to get into conflict with others.
“When societies shatter, they generally shatter along tribal lines,” Harris notes. “People are seeing themselves as irretrievably different from their neighbors.” Religions, he seems to be saying, emphasize differences in people, which provoke conflicts. But it is the awareness that we are all human and all alike that fosters closeness and is the real antidote to divisiveness.
This survey, with its revelation about how people are feeling about religion, may be a harbinger of a general turn away from religion and groupthink.