Religion is an organized set of beliefs and ethos propagating a certain way of life through its books and writings and the idea of a ‘God’. It is something palpable in every nook and cranny of the world around us, from footballers pointing to the heavens above in celebration to the malevolent doings of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
You can say that religion is a paradox in itself. It unites people in the singular belief of a supernatural entity above us all. Yet, it can cause terrible fissures among various sections of society, especially when certain ideas clash or when the sensationalist media churns out fake or exaggerated news. Naturally, the question of how to avoid accidental or deliberate discrimination with the many religions arises. With that, this article uncovers several strategies to prevent such discrimination from sprouting.
1. Start educating future generations from young
Mentalities and beliefs are largely influenced by what we are exposed to when young. According to the Institute of Policy Studies’ Mathew Matthews and Shane Pereira in 2019, the associations made by children about people who are different from themselves are based on cues picked up from trusted adults around them. Thus, parents, caregivers, and teachers should lead by example, since discriminatory ideas could have settled in the minds of children without the children themselves realizing.
1.1 Organize religious school activities every few months
School field trip to a church (Credits: Catholic Diocese of Cleveland)
To prevent religious discrimination, it is important to understand and learn about the different religions to appreciate their uniqueness and learn to live in peace with one another. One effective way to do this is to initiate excursions or even overseas trips for students to immerse themselves in different religious lifestyles.
In multicultural Singapore, religious harmony is placed on a pedestal to maintain social cohesion. This is why all schools have programs and events in place to promote respect and support for one another, regardless of religion. One example is the World Religions Tour™, a trail that exposes students to 4 major religions adopted in the country - Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. It has helped students form accurate, sound understandings of what the various religions represent, which in turn has led to them being much more positive and interested in various religions.
Such efforts, however, should be conducted frequently such as every 3 or 4 months. Given that most children learn well by positive reinforcement, regular exposure to various religions would better reinforce knowledge gained about them, erasing any lingering spiteful thoughts about one or more religions.
1.2 Have more discussions on the problems people have faced due to religious discrimination
Credits: Rice University
Rather than merely focusing on the festivities and typical day-to-day life of people of different religions, it is equally important to touch on the harmful impacts of the prejudice they have faced due to their religion. Such impacts can be covered in a relevant subject such as Social Studies.
One epitome of hardships faced by victims of religious discrimination would be Muslim youths and women in the Philippines. According to de la Rosa's report, the discrimination comes in various forms, from not getting any employment if their names are Arab-sounding to being forced to remove their hijabs in workplaces. This discrimination stems from common prejudices that non-Muslim Filipinos possess towards Filipino Muslims whom they deem violent and untrustworthy.
By highlighting such dark but true stories, students can empathize with the victims and would be more galvanized into eradicating religious discrimination as much as possible.
During the discussions, teachers should advise their classes to think of something positive whenever they hear something negative about religion. Students should also be trained to detect typical features of untruthful claims, such as knowing how to spot a news source that has an agenda against religion, or simply learning how to research supposed facts about religion.
2. Punishments on Religion Discrimination
Credits: The Review of Religions
To deter religious discrimination from corroding the social fabric of communities, strict punishments should be implemented. Some individuals have such deep-seated animosity towards a religion that the only way to prevent them from perpetuating the hatred is through harsh lessons. This is why most countries such as America and New Zealand have made it illegal to wound religious feelings.
A few years ago, Singaporean YouTuber Amos Yes published several videos mocking Christianity and Islam. To stop the sharing of such insensitive material which has led to numerous police reports being made, his YouTube channel was taken down and he was sent to prison for several weeks. Afterward, he stopped insulting religions, and no other Singaporean dared to challenge the law.
In the US, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Besides religion discrimination at work, they handle discrimination against race, color, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.
3. Organize more community outreach activities
Volunteering at food charity - Food From The Heart (Credits: CNA)
Since anyone can take part in these initiatives which include donation drives and charity projects, more mingling is encouraged amongst people from all walks of life. They would find themselves gradually learning about the lifestyles of various religions, from the cuisines to the lingua franca.
More importantly, they would realize that everyone is human and pretty much similar in one way or another. All equally trying to get by the day, committing to priorities, and shouldering setbacks common to the community. Although religion often shapes one’s values and behavior, all religions (except satanic cults that deem themselves a religion) are based primarily on a foundation of leading a righteous life.
Thus, it is only through frequent communications and meet-ups with people of various religions, that one begins to see religious differences as giving each religion its fingerprint. One would then be much less doubtful or fearful of them.
4. Have religious diversity everywhere
Credits: The California Aggie
Be it schools, the workforce, or the media, having a sufficient representation of all religions is key to cementing the idea that everyone is equal as humans. Furthermore, it is another method of fostering camaraderie with people of other religions and spreading awareness about them. All these factors go a long way in making us much more sensitive when speaking about religion, as well as more united as a whole.
If only certain religions are constantly being showcased around us, people of those religions might be too accustomed to the idea that their society does not have anyone else. Hence, they might be less welcoming towards people of different religions, who get shunned or given cold treatment as a result. As a beacon of light for many who are experiencing dark times, religion is a sacrosanct aspect of society that should not be meddled with mindlessly.