These days there is a lot of discussion about religion. I wrote in a recent blog post about a town hall meeting I attended in Chattanooga on Islamic Terrorism. While I described the meeting as fairly respectful, a local columnist whom I respect, David Cook, felt that the meeting was less than that. I suppose I was reacting to the fact that people weren't screaming at or threatening one another. Still, there was a lot of "my religion is better than yours" discussion going on. It made me wish that we could simply take religion out of the debate about violence and talk about ethics instead. We could simply invoke shared values without getting into religion. I wanted someone to play John Lennon's Imagine.
Some argue that one of the issues with the cultures where Islam flourishes is that they did not go through the Enlightenment. They did not gain from the benefits of having religion no longer dominate such areas as science and politics. Whether true or not, think of where we in the West would be if we had allowed religious ideas to prevent explorations into the nature of the universe or continued to allow the Church to conduct inquisitions.
We may not like to admit it, but there are advantages to keeping a healthy separation between the sacred and the secular. Religion, as philosopher Richard Rorty observed, is helpful in providing meaning to life. It is not that great at producing good science or establishing large societies that respect such democratic values as freedom and tolerance. Our founders had the wisdom to see that. The best that religion has to offer, in my opinion, are reminders to love and respect one another. The monks of St. Athos embody that spirit, as does the Dalai Lama when he says, "My religion is kindness." Mine, too.