Gini Nelson\’s Engaging Conflicts

March 29, 2006

Why Speak of Spirit and Conflict In the Same Breath?

Filed under: Spirit — Gini @ 7:51 pm

What’s so engaging about conflict and spirit? First, most people get solace and direction in stressful times through their religious or spiritual beliefs; information that supports or enriches those beliefs (including practice tools) will strengthen that resource when facing conflict.

Second, some people are stressed because of questions about religion and/or spirituality that they think arise out of science. But most of us don’t know much about science … what is it? More to the point, how does science help explain our impulses towards religion and spirituality, and how we chose to practice them (including explaining why those impulses can turn to violence and conflict in some circumstances)? Can the areas of science that relate to religion and spirituality help prevent, reduce, contain or resolve conflict?

Some people may experience conflict when confronting an insistence that there is only one way, or even just a best way, to experience and practice religion and/or spirituality — and what they know gives insufficient solace, or is different. Others may watch with confusion how some forms of religion are changing, as we see especially in the United States in the perhaps parallel growths of more fundamentalist mega churches, and post-modern quantum mysticism. Can science help here?

Finally, how some practice their religion is itself increasingly the source and cause of stress, exclusion and violence in the world, including in the United States, from terrorism in the name of a god (including 9/11 and the bombing of abortion clinics) to fundamentalist political activism and political regulation in response to fears about religious divisiveness (e.g., recent US fundamentalist activism and some countries’ banning of headscarves and other religion-identifying clothing).

All of us are confronted by these new realities. Understanding better why people’s religious beliefs can drive them to actions that are considered extreme by many, can itself help reduce the stress of living in a world subject to those actions; and may help in developing additional tools for working towards solutions.

Sometimes, one can fear that these are the days of “the new religious wars,” and that the advances in critical thinking exemplified in part by the best of science will be thrown over and out — but this won’t happen. Really, the vast majority of people do trust science, and don’t believe all the tenets of their religions literally — most happily fly in airplanes (they trust science) and do not kill people of opposing religious beliefs. We can celebrate and be excited by the opportunities to learn more about science, our humanity, and spirituality.

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