We need to do more than tolerate persecuted religious minorities
By failing the Baha’i, Alawite and Yazidi communities, we fail ourselves
“Observe a star. Is such an entity beautiful for how distant and untouchable it is? No, it is worthy for the light it brings to the dark, for the hope it gives to men irrespective of the diversity of their hearts…”
Ancient Persian saying, circa 600BCE
What is God? Whatever you may be, one thing is certain. Deities pass through our debates, discussions, thoughts and expression. They glimmer in the beauty of our prose, the passion of our philosophies, the warmth of our prayers and the depth of our artwork. As the creations of God, we are also participating in his (or hers) being.
Our interactions and ideas shape and mould our worship and vision of the other. I can no more say what God is, or the truth of his image than I can lay claim to the accuracy of any faith, but I can clearly see the impact of human innovation, creativity and analysis on religion. And that diversity makes us human. It arguably is what makes us great.
I can stand in any mosque, synagogue, temple or cathedral and be overwhelmed at the depth of faith. The thought, the time and the wisdom of ages burns into every brick, ritual and altar. I’ve always been impressed by the lack of homogeneity in faith. There is something raw, natural and honest about using the world around you to shape your own cosmological narrative. Faith has to be felt.
It cannot be shoved, beaten or whipped into reality. Any religion that demands absolutism denies faith. The experience and diversity of the individual in the face of God is sacred. To demand the authority of the imans, rabbis and priests over that of God is ridiculous and cruel. Discussion, criticism, debate and reform is what makes us such an enchanting, capable and successful species.
When you demand all people think the same, you might as well demand the sea does not reach your feet. We are pack animals of individuals. You may, very logically, assume a common legal framework or code of behaviours but you can never make someone a Muslim, a Jew, a Catholic, a Communist, a Royalist. For all the beatings in the world, I cannot make a man a Muslim against his will anymore than I can make him a duck. All you create is fear, a dark underground where individuality mingles with resentment.
Better that we discussed faith and religion in the open, freely, as ourselves. Better we fought our monsters in daylight than the dark. Better we did not criminalise thought, but praise the ideals and values that created happiness and kindness. When you persecute a minority, you are simply denying them the right to progress and contribute on the same level as you.
You don’t destroy bad ideas with body counts. You destroy them by removing the venom they need to recruit angry, bitter and unhappy individuals. You can’t have a war in a time of true peace. Without something worth dying for, the glory of war rots to nothing. When is the last time you saw a protestant being lynched in Europe? The glory of reform comes not from an iron fist but from an open mouth and open embrace.
And in allowing diversity, and promoting it, you fracture the absolutism militantism demands. When Sufi, Shia and Yazidi groups are so diverse while living integrated, mixed lives, it makes it harder for divisions of Others and Us to form. It would be silly to become passionately violent over something a few scores of people believed. When you force them together in solidarity over persecution, you risk disruption and a harder fastening of identity to faith, rather than humanity.
We must promote open minded diversity. We must allow diversity and reject literalism where there can only be one understanding of truth. We must make religion about faith again, not a headscarf, book or building. It cannot be all that defines us.
And we can only build diversity through talking, criticism and discussion. It isn’t enough to put up with a minority. You have to allow them to exist within the same freedoms, rights and responsibilities as you.