David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Role of Religion in War and Peace

Brandon Sun, May 30, 2009 - David McConkey

It's great to see that the Brandon school board is planning a handout describing different religions. The descriptions would be distributed to each Grade 5 student, along with a permission card to receive a Bible.

Brandon students should be thinking about the variety of religions in the world. For the issue of religion involves some of the biggest questions facing every citizen of our global village.

Do I choose to follow a religion, or not? If yes, which one? Then there is an even more crucial question: How do I get along with others who have a different religion?

Religion has become the key factor in whether the world will be at war or peace. So says Madeleine Albright in her recent book The Mighty And The Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs.

Albright was the U.S. secretary of state in the 1990s. Now, because of the growing importance of religion, she says that she has had to adjust the way she sees the world. 

She writes as a hopeful Christian who respects other religions, but who is very worried about the prospects for world peace.

Albright points out the close connection between religions and warfare. She notes, for example, that religious fighting for control of the holy city of Jerusalem has been taking place for more than a thousand years, and is still going on today.

Studies have found, she says, that wars with a religious component last longer and are fought more savagely than other conflicts.

“A religious war fought with swords, chain mail, catapults, and battering rams is one thing.” But now she says we face the threat of religious conflict involving nuclear bombs: both from warfare between states and from religiously-motivated terrorism.

Albright discusses current religious tensions such as those between Arabs and Israelis, India and Pakistan, Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam, and al-Qaida and the West. All these parties either now have – or could have in the future – access to nuclear weapons.

As reported about the Brandon school board discussions, the new descriptive handout would include the ten religions in Brandon’s Labyrinth of Peace. Religious non-belief was also discussed as another option.

The ten religions identified in the Labyrinth are: Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Daoism, Earth Religions (Wicca), Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Native Religion, and Sikhism. 

It's excellent that the Canadian aboriginal perspective (Native Religion) is included. Easy to overlook as it has an oral, as opposed to a written, tradition. But important for an understanding of our country. As John Ralston Saul points out in his new book A Fair Country, Canada is founded on three pillars: aboriginal, French, and English.

Furthermore, Saul says that the aboriginal influence over four centuries has been “the central inspiration” in creating a unique society here. Canada is a special place, with, for example, rates of volunteering that are the highest in the world. Because of the aboriginal impact, Saul asserts, Canada is “not, and never has been in the European or U.S. sense, a Christian country.”

Of course, Canada, including Brandon, is home to people of many different backgrounds. Interestingly, Saul says that it is because of the aboriginal influence that Canadians are much more welcoming to new immigrants than are Americans or Europeans.

To appreciate different religions peacefully getting along, why not stop at the Labyrinth of Peace on your next walk or bicycle ride along the Riverbank pathway? (You can also drive there: turn south off Kirkcaldy Drive just west of the school at Patterson Crescent; there is parking nearby.)

Stroll around the Labyrinth and read about the different religions on the descriptive plaque and on the ten posts representing each faith. 

Walk into the centre of the Labyrinth and view the sheaf of wheat symbolizing our city and province. Reflect on the different paths to religious understanding, or the alternative of no religion, or a spirituality that cannot be described by words.

Reflect on being in a community where people really do live together in harmony. And where schools can freely distribute information about different religions.

Contemplate the hope of the Labyrinth: “to raise awareness about the many religions, cultures and communities that co-exist within our region and to promote religious tolerance and peace.”

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See also:  

Book Looks at Islamic World

Rights and Religions

Driving Tour of Brandon Finds Historic Places

Other Reviews

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David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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