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Argue for or Against the Thesis That Peaceful Cooperation Among People From Different Religions Will Be More Likely If People Use Secular Ideals as a Common Mediating Ground for Dialogue, Rather Than Using Ideas Unique to People’s Own Religious Traditions

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The post-September 11 world is seized with the dangers of religious extremism and conflict between religious communities, particularly between two or more of the Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism

The threat of religious extremism is real and well documented. The connection between religion and conflict is in the process of being thoroughly explored, however, to the extent that hyperbole and exaggeration are commonplace. In the popular mind, to discuss religion in the context of international affairs automatically raises the specter of religious-based conflict. The many other dimensions and impacts of religion tend to be downplayed or even neglected entirely.

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Although not necessarily so, there are some aspects of religion that make it susceptible to being a latent source of conflict. All religions have their accepted dogma, or articles of belief, that followers must accept without question. This can lead to inflexibility and intolerance in the face of other beliefs. After all, if it is the word of God, how can one compromise it? At the same time, scripture and dogma are often vague and open to interpretation

Therefore, conflict can arise over whose interpretation is the correct one, a conflict that ultimately cannot be solved because there is no arbiter. The winner generally is the interpretation that attracts the most followers. However, those followers must also be motivated to action. Although, almost invariably, the majority of any faith hold moderate views, they are often more complacent, whereas extremists are motivated to bring their interpretation of God's will to fruition. Religious extremists can contribute to conflict escalation. They see radical measures as necessary to fulfilling God's wishes. Fundamentalists of any religion tend to take a Manichean view of the world. If the world is a struggle between good and evil, it is hard to justify compromising with the devil. Any sign of moderation can be decried as selling out, more importantly, of abandoning God's will.

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Mediators who are motivated by their faith may face challenges unique to their perspective. It is very difficult to work with those who the faith-based mediator may believe to be morally wrong, if not evil. Furthermore, the mediator may be tempted to abandon their neutral position for ‘an eye for an eye' attitude, should they or their loved ones be threatened. The supreme challenge, although this is by no means unique to mediation, is to find God in others. One advantage they appear to have is their persistence and commitment. Studies have suggested that faith-based NGOs in Bosnia and Herzegovina have helped overcome conditions that fueled the conflict by bringing people together for such varied projects as soup kitchens, building homes, and organizing choirs (Mary Anderson, 1999). The long-term commitment of these NGOs, these studies find, have contributed to reconciliation. Motivated by religious goals of seeking peace, religious leaders and faith-based NGOs have frequently played prominent roles as mediators or other forms of intervention in conflict scenarios. Some religious figures have been able to use their positions of authority to work toward peace and to forward the cause of justice

Pope John Paul II, for example, played a prominent role in Lebanon, Poland, and Haiti. As respected members of society, individual national religious leaders have often been at the forefront of efforts to deny impunity and bring an end to fighting (John Paul Lederach, 1999).

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As shown above, religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values

Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature.

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Mary Anderson, Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace or War. 1999 Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner Publishers.

Catherine Morris Peacebuilding in Cambodia: The Role of Religion http://www.peacemakers.ca/research/Cambodia/Cambodia2000ExecSum.html

John Paul Lederach, The Journey Toward Reconciliation (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999).

Can Faith-Based NGOs Advance Interfaith Reconciliation? The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina

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