Religion and racism have a long history of being present in societies, and both of them have a lot to do with human nature. Sometimes, especially nowadays, religion helps to deal with racism and other forms of discrimination. In the past, however, religion has often been used as a tool for conquering other people that have different beliefs than the conqueror. The shift in the use of religion can be tracked through major historical events as well as the change in attitudes in certain periods. The fighting between abolitionists and slave traders is a bright example of the shift in society, and how the meaning of religious statements can change. The ways the religions were used to stimulate racism and intolerance, as well as the justification of conquests, are widely studied by various historians, anthropologists, and sociologists. The answer to the question might be very simple, considering the simple set of responses that form the answer to the problem. This series of intermediate answer uncover the origins of racism and the historical, evidential analogies which explain how and why such benevolent phenomenon like religion is used in such horrible ways.
The Origins of Racism as a Cultural Phenomenon
The research should start from the global perception of racism in human society. Before the countries and governments have formed, people have gathered in tribes and communities united by geographical, religious factors, and physical appearances. When people were a lot less civilized, the instincts of forming packs were very influential, and these instincts have dictated behavior patterns which would now be considered racist and intolerant. Unity demanded common things, and skin color have provided this characteristic feature, so it is no wonder that a tribe with brighter skin color have perceived a tribe with darker skin color “others,” and had visual and obvious reasons to fight them. The instincts that stimulate people to divide into a group with easily distinguishable features are present even today in the form of languages, citizenships, national traditions, and even flag colors. Those who began a relatively recent World War II have justified their aggression by the racial superiority of one “race” over another, so the tribal wars have not disappeared yet. With the come of the Internet and positive global increase intolerance, it is unlikely that such global implications of racism will happen, so racism has acquired a place of an evil thing inside human minds. It is worth mentioning that some scientists make attempts to medicalize racism, which means that they have gathered arguments that show the biological roots of racism in people. In his article “medicalizing Racism,” James M. Thomas provides research that gathers arguments to prove that some people are more “predisposed” to racism. Such researchers, however, are very controversial and are not generally accepted by the world’s scientific community, but the fact that they appear shows that humanity moves further from racism tolerance.
Racist Misinterpretation of Religion
As any cultural change, racism has and always had its reflection in religion. The complexity of the question comes from the ambiguity of scriptures and the easiness of giving multiple meanings to the same words. In short, religious texts can both stimulate and prohibit people from being racist. The brightest example of the different use of religion is the fact that one of the main commandments of Christianity prevents people from killing other people, but Crusaders have slaughtered thousands of people “in the name of God.” The examples which are directly related to the question of racism were highlighted by Karl Giberson, professor of Science and Religion at Stonehill College. According to his findings, people have differently interpreted the section of the Bible that told the story of Cain, namely the moment of Cain’s punishment by the Mark of Cain. Black skin was considered the Mark of Cain by some nations, so people had the reason to hate the “bearers of the Mark of Cain” (Giberson, Karl). Such interpretation of the scripture gives an idea about the ways religions can be used to encourage racism and beliefs about human inferiority and superiority.
However, as the shifts in cultures happen, scriptures can be used to mark racism as a sin. Christopher G. Ellison, Marc A. Musick and Andrea K. Henderson, scientists who have studied the influence of racism on many sides of the lives of African American people. Their empirical studies have helped to observe improvements in the level of life among this ethnic group, and levels of racism implications have decreased as well.
Abolitionists were faced with pro-slavery rivals that used the Bible as an excuse for slavery. When slavery has begun to emerge, people perceived it as a normal phenomenon, and the Bible was written at the time it happened. Surely, as the economies of countries at that time depended on slaves to a high degree, it was beneficial for governments to mark slavery as a good thing. Moreover, Biblical justification of slavery has made regular people feel less guilty if they began to reconsider their attitudes towards forcing someone to work for free and be a commodity. This way, religion has stimulated racism to the point at which even priests did not disagree with it. When abolitionist movements began to gain power, they were opposed by direct quotations from the Bible:
“They asked who could question the Word of God when it said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5)” and “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). As it can be seen, the direct quotation from the book all the Christians respect was disarming in discussions. However, society has changed, and slavery has become a tabooed thing to practice and a popular thing to criticize. The possibility of misinterpreting scriptures and other religious artifacts, texts and pieces of art opens endless options at stimulating anything, as it happened with racism. The main factor that prohibits people from misusing religion or encourages them to justify a horrible action is the state of the society, as scriptures have no direct prohibitions that can be used standalone and can not be reversed to bear the opposite ideas.
How Islam Has Become a Tool of Racism Implications
Religions can also cause implications of racism because of the natural human weakness to be prejudiced about something or someone. If for example, lots of representatives of one religion cause many problems, people might become prejudiced towards them, subconsciously thinking that every representative of belief will cause problems as well. Islam is possibly the most prejudiced religion of them all because of the terrorist attacks around the world, presumably planned and executed by Muslims. Jihad motivated these Muslims, the holy war against the believers in the wrong God, which is an example of a religion stimulating racism. Muslims have made 9/11 because they thought all the Americans believed in the false God, so they have caused a catastrophe which took the lives of many people, although they could even believe in their God. At least, the mass media presents Muslims to the world in such ways, which might not represent the truth. The conflict has shown that this group of Muslims was persuaded that Americans deserved to die for their sinful beliefs. After 9/11, where the whole world was told that Muslims caused it for religious reasons, and people have become prejudiced towards Muslims thinking they are fanatical and dangerous people. The example illustrates two sides of influence religion can make, one that allows claiming other people sinners deserving to die, and the other that makes people prejudiced towards whole ethnicities.
The Reasons Why Islam Takes Important Place in the World’s Racism
Humans tend to derive those who are unlike them because of some noticeable features. Islam happened to be a very different religion from all the existing ones on Earth because of their strict rituals, traditions, and ways of thinking. Christianity, Buddhism, and other religions are softer than Islam, which makes it easier for people to become prejudiced and feel alienated from Muslims. It is unknown if the Muslims truly wanted to wage Jihad on the rest of the world that believed in the wrong God, but the specificity and uniqueness of Islam made it much easier for millions of people to believe that Muslims are fanatics that must be isolated or even destroyed to keep the rest of the world safe. The result is the appearance of the vicious circle of the mutual feeling of hostility between Muslims and the rest of the world, where Muslims receive hate because of the actions of the few, and Muslims gain reasons to hate in return. Of course, religion cannot take all the blame for the hard situation in the world, but in this case, it has played a role of the catalyst for many deaths and complexity that presents in the world nowadays. ISIS justifies its actions by claiming the other civilizations are not worthy and are infidels deserving to be destroyed. It is of no matter if people of other from Muslim ethnicities believe in their God or not. They might still get slaughtered in the name of Allah.
Islam can not only be an illustration of prejudice between two different religions but as an example of conflicts, hate, and bloodshed inside one religion. The conflict between Sunni and Shiites is a complicated topic of the political fight for power and the use of religion to justify aggression and to kill in the eyes of people. The conflict inside Islam has appeared with debates over the succession of prophet Mohammad, and two major camps could not reach an agreement about the topic, which resulted in significant battles. Nowadays, politics use the disagreement to seize power and eliminate the opposing side. The example of Shia-Sunni relations illustrates how even minor disagreements can cause millions of deaths inside one religion. Evidently, the conflict between two opposing powers is not an implication of racism, but an implication of the ways at which any action can be justified and all the followers of a charismatic leader may be assured of fake things. The thoughts planted in human’s minds by charismatic leaders might not always be false, but presented to them in a light that makes the conflicts desirable and the bloodshed unavoidable.
All the influence religion can make on stimulating racism can be derived from the natural human instinct of dividing into “us” and “them” with consequent violence and prejudice. Religion can be used to justify and stimulate anything a person with much influence desires, no matter how moral it is. It is not religion as a spiritual practice which makes people do horrible things, but the rulers of people’s opinions, which are chosen by people themselves. This way, the question “can religion stimulate racism” can have two answers. The first answer is positive, as scriptures contain statements that justify and stimulate racism. The second answer is negative, as scriptures might contain anything, and people decide how they want to understand the information and apply it to people’s minds, which also serves as the answer for the question “HOW can religion stimulate racism?”. As far as the modern world goes, there are still various ways the leaders of the opinions find to justify racism, and the state of matters will remain until people realize the answers to the two questions above. If people do not realize the logic of the thought process, the interested groups will still be able to use religion in their interests, which may involve stimulating racism.
LEWIS, BERNARD. “The Historical Roots of Racism.” The American Scholar, vol. 67, no. 1, 1998, pp. 17–25. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/41212711.
Thomas, James m. “Medicalizing Racism.” Contexts, vol. 13, no. 4, 2014, pp. 24–29. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24710579.
Giberson, Karl. “The Biblical Roots Of Racism.” Huffingtonpost.Com, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/karl-giberson-phd/the-biblical-roots-of-racism_b_7649390.html.
Ellison, Christopher G., et al. “Balm in Gilead: Racism, Religious Involvement, and Psychological Distress among African-American Adults.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 47, no. 2, 2008, pp. 291–309. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20486913.