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For many people, the diversity of world religions is a reminder of the vast differences between the different people of the world and their various cultural experiences. However, while many people focus on the differences between the world's religious traditions, what is more fascinating is the incredible overlap between the various world religions and the moral and ethical traditions that have developed under the auspices of those religions. Despite the various differences, there are certain moral and ethical norms that seem consistent across cultures and religious traditions. Furthermore the major world religions, particularly the Abrahamic religions, share similar approaches to the idea of the divine and to the nature of the relationship between man and God. In this paper, the author will look at how religion guides and shapes judgment on several modern issues, in an attempt to explain those different religious perspectives, not in the historical context in which they were conceived, but in light of the modern circumstances under which they have developed and exist today.
One of the interesting issues faced by modern religions is the seeming conflict between science and some religious traditions. The explosion of scientific knowledge has resulted in several challenges to religiously-inspired beliefs that seem to conflict with modern science. Nowhere is this more evident in the western world than in the conflict that many Christians have with the scientifically substantiated theory of evolution. To many evangelical Christians, the notion of evolution is simply anathema because it conflicts the creationist account in the Bible and to evangelical Christians, the idea is that the Bible is infallible. This leads one to wonder how members of other religions approach the idea of evolution. What is fascinating is that many religions have far fewer problems accepting the idea of evolution than many Christian religions. For example, when examining Judaism, it is interesting to find that "Orthodox Jews take the same approach to scripture and evolution as Roman Catholics: theistic evolution. Both tend to believe that evolution as demonstrated by science was the means the creator employed to make the world, whether or not any purposive trajectory may be discerned in the apparently random process. The one reservation Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, as well as many Muslims, make is that they believe a special act of God was needed to make members of Homo Sapiens what they are. God injected or imparted the soul specially. This seems necessary to prevent classifying humanity among the animals. I don't know if this theological proviso should even be taken literally" (Anonymous, 2010). Examining eastern religions, the author points out that Hindus tend to embrace modern science and the idea of spiritual reincarnation has intrinsic connection to the idea of evolution. "First, the Indian religions believe in the reign of law in the natural and supernatural worlds. Karma, the law of cause and effect, governs what happens, not gods. The gods exist, even in Buddhism which demotes them in importance, but they are not superior to Karma, any more than the Greek gods were superior to Fate" (Anonymous, 2010). He further specifically links these two processes- the physical evolution and the spiritual evolution by stating that, "Those who practice piety, charity, and duty ascend the ladder, just as those creatures who eat hardier and propagate their kind more busily will dominate the next generation genetically"(Anonymous, 2010).
One of the other issues challenging the modern world is the idea of whether there are certain basic fundamental human rights. The idea that human rights can be fundamental and should be inalienable has been embraced by certain groups of people since the 1700s, but they have never actually been extended to all people. Instead, these declarations of rights have been ways of elevating some people at the expense of other people; traditionally women and ethnic minorities. In modern times, there is a question about the universal nature of fundamental rights. "Notwithstanding all these, a certain - more or less explicit - tension operating between, on the one hand, the determinate territory of fundamental rights (which was initially confined to only several western nations), and, on the other hand, their universal, hence world, validity
(aiming at a transnational political and juridical vocation) has been noticeable from the very beginning. More precisely, we are dealing here with a sort of conceptual chiasm between law
itself - which, in order to be universally legitimate, must aspire towards universality - and its initial territoriality (i.e. jurisdiction) - which has been restricted to only a few states. This is a genuine challenge that is still impelling modern nations to "project" this new form of legitimacy (which, once again, is universal and, geopolitically, global) beyond their own frontiers" (Ciomos, 2010).
Many people may wonder about the relationship between those issues and religion, but religion is one of the largest determinants of how people conceive of human rights. In fact, religion has been consistently used, across almost all societies, as an excuse for the subjugation and mistreatment of certain subgroups of people. How does this historical reality align with a modern interpretation of fundamental rights? Moreover, if certain rights are considered fundamental, then most people would suggest that religious freedom is one of those fundamental rights. However, how should this issue be resolved when religious freedom appears to conflict with other fundamental rights? For example, though my understanding of Islam does not support the misogynistic treatment of women throughout much of the Muslim world, one cannot argue that women enjoy the same rights as men in most countries Muslim theocracies. What becomes more important, religious freedom or the right to be free from sex-based discrimination? This question becomes even more complicated when one considers that human rights do not tend to develop within societies. On the contrary, "human rights are insistently exported - in batches, in a more or less peaceful manner - and are accompanied by, almost fatalistically, the (rather... determinate) interests of certain exceptional nations, which claim to be "more universal" than others (Ciomos, 2010).
In fact, globalization on all scales has had an impact on world religion in many unexpected ways. The global economy has led to considerations of religion that were simply beyond comprehension even a century ago. For example, the global trade and the easy access to information have meant that no person can really claim ignorance of exploitative practices. Therefore, individuals are faced with the challenge of determining whether or not their own global practices are reaffirming their self-concept as godly people. One of the difficult things to realize is that globalization, for all of its benefits to certain groups of people, may have some really negative consequences for people. One of the interesting things about globalization is that "free market operation will diminish absolute poverty, but will increase relative poverty. Furthermore, trends in energy use indicate that the market provides insufficient incentives to protect creation and stimulate the virtue of temperance in order to limit Western consumption. The churches in Europe will therefore remain critical about the benefits of capitalism and rather promote a profile of the market system that secures reasonable equality within and between countries and that sustains the natural environment" (Graafland, 2008).
Another important consideration of globalization is whether it is ethical to profit from the use of labor making subsistence wages. To Christians, it seems as if the answer to that question should be an unequivocal "no." "Another common element of Christian ethics, closely related to the first element, is the high value of justice and impartiality of Christian ethics. There should be no bias or favouritism but an equal application of rules of justice for all people in all relevant situations. This impartiality can be based on the notion that all people are created in the image of God and therefore should be equally respected (Lev. 19:15)" (Graafland, 2008). However, the reality is that millions of people in Christian nations happily engage in every day behavior that subjugates the poor, perpetuates poverty, and treats people with a basic unfairness that belies the idea of their religion. This idea seems to support the notion of religion as geographically determined in some way.
In fact, geography and the nature of the geographical influence on religion and culture play an interesting role in modern ethnic conflict. People of all religions should be concerned about the plight of refugees from conflicts. In many locations with ethnic conflicts, religious differences are seen as the root cause behind these conflicts. However, religion actually appears to be a scapegoat. Religious differences may help define and delineate different groups, but ideological differences do not appear to lead to this type of conflict without underlying scarcity. "Many of the so-called "ethnic conflicts" that lead to forced migration turn out to be resource-driven. States and militias, multinational corporations and criminal syndicates, now vie for a wide range of resources. Humans themselves have become a commodity trafficked at great profit for asylum, labor, and/or sexual exploitation" (Hein & Niazi, 2009). Religious difference becomes a way to reinforce differences.…[continue]
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This also contrasts sharply with idealistic notions within strict doctrines of the Orthodox faith suggesting that faith and God are defined and not subject to interpretation. One may look into themselves to find compassion and strength, but those qualities must come from God if one views themselves as having what Chirban (1996) refers to as a "vertical relationship with God" (p. 3). It seems agreed on "universally" among Unitarians that
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