Author, retired professor gives lecture on tolerance of religious diversity

Friday, October 28, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:29 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

The world’s major religions were not formed with the intention of fighting one another, said Martin Marty, the renowned author and retired professor of religious history at the University of Chicago.

So, why is religion the source of so much conflict in society today?

Marty answered that question in his lecture to a standing room only crowd at Memorial Union North on Thursday.

Drawing on historical events, such as the first Gulf War Iranian conflict and from the teachings of classic philosophers like Voltaire , Marty emphasized that conflicts between belief systems can only be settled through tolerance and patience. People need to learn to listen more and talk — or argue — less, he said.

“The natural tendency is to define ourselves against the other,” he said. “You get along with people until you’re threatened.”

Over time, as suppressive political systems such as totalitarianism and fascism broke down, “pluralism” presented a different kind of threat. With so many viewpoints being expressed, the world had to decide “with what social and political philosophies to greet this change,” Marty said.

Marty’s lecture, “Fighting Fair: Conflict and Conversation on Religion and Public Affairs,” was aimed at helping professions such as medicine, education, law, the clergy and journalism deal with society’s wide range of religious and cultural views.

Marty said some people argue that the existence of many different religions is at the root of today’s problems. However, Marty offered an analogy in response: If you have one philosophy, its adherents kill everyone who doesn’t believe. If you have two, the two sides will eventually kill each other off. But, Marty said, if you have 30, everyone is forced to coexist.

“Mutiplicity means people begin to get along.”

However, to get along, people need to stop “shouting at each other,” Marty said. And to do that, he said, there is a need to “get groups to begin to care about each other. Then, when they disagree, they’ll deal with it by talking rather than fighting.

“The interest lies in our differences,” he said. “No one ever leaves saying ‘I sure won that conversation.’”

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