Some Comments on Belief, Religion and Mutual Respect

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Now that two important religious holidays that impact millions of Christians, Catholics and Jews around the world, Easter and Passover, are over, it is time to come together in ways that help one another respect differing views, particularly between Atheists and Believers involved in organized religions.

In Easter Sunday, 2012, New York Times writer and commentator, Nicholas D. Kristof, wrote an interesting and important article, “Learning to Respect Religion.” In essence, what he is saying is that everyone, whether an atheist or other, needs to understand that organized religion has played and continues to play an important role in society. To support his argument, Kristof turns to three writers who are both atheist in their beliefs and critics of organized religion in their thinking. These three are Alain de Botton, writer of a new book, “Religion for Atheists,” Edward O. Wilson, Harvard biologist and writer of “The Social Conquest of Earth, and Johnathan Haidt, Professor of Psychology and author of “The Righteous Mind.”


What Kristof points out about all three of these writers is that they discuss and admit the important role that religion plays in society, something you would not expect from any of them. To summarize all three, religion is viewed as a force that organizes people into cooperative communities able to live in harmony with each other and provides rites of passage for everyone from birth to death and at every stage of life in between. In addition, it provides great comfort to believers while placing inhibitions on drug and alcohol abuse.

These writers are certainly not ignoring what they view as the negative side of organized religion. However, they are demonstrating the ability to be respectful of those who are believers.

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There are too many times when non believers scoff at what religious people think and practice. In fact, one does not have to be an atheist to do this. There are those who describe themselves as spiritual but anti institutional religion as found in a church, synagogue or mosque. There are those who are religious and are mistakenly convinced that psychologists, biologists and other scientists are anti religion. In fact, among these groups, there are many who are fervently religious while having no difficulty reconciling biblical teachings with scientific findings. I have known many psychiatrists and psychologists who attend church and synagogue on a regular basis. Then, too, there are those who are religious who are totally rejecting of those who are atheists.

At a time when there is so much conflict in the world, it is essential that people learn to accept one another in ways that show tolerance for differing beliefs, practices and values.

In my opinion, one defining aspect of mental health is the ability to accept diversity in the world. Some will be quick to point out all of those who are violently anti diversity, such as the radical Muslims and Christian and Jewish Fundamentalists in the United States and around the world. Keep in mind the fact that those people do not represent the vast majority of us who want to live in peace and harmony. There are those who find no role for region in their lives and that is their right. There are those who gain great comfort from their beliefs and practices and that is there right. There are all of us who need to accept both points of view and valuable to them even though we do not agree.

After all, what is wrong with faith if the result is emotional resilience and and stress reduction. Prayer accomplishes this for untold numbers of people. Let’s not scoff at each other just because we may be on the other side of the fence.

Your comments and questions are encouraged, as always.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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