Can Religion Be a Force for Good?

The ADL National Director says judgment is still out on whether the positives promised by religion are outweighed by the negatives.
  • Transcript


Question: How can we work towards making religion a force for good?

Abraham Foxman:  Well, the irony, the tragedy is, that’s what religion is supposed to be.  It’s supposed to teach us the difference between good and evil, and yet it’s been used so frequently, or abused, for separation, for hate, for rationalizing so much hurt, I’m one of those that believes there needs to be a separation between religion and state.  And yet, at the same time, if the spirit of love which comes from religion doesn’t inspire our leadership, it could be very, very dangerous and counterproductive.  So it’s a very difficult balance. 

Look, you have Iran, it’s a "religious" country, and look how much hate there is there.  In Israel there’s a lot of religion, it hasn't resolved all the problems.  In our country we’re struggling with it.  Some of the most... some of the most, I’m trying to find the word... some of the most polarizing elements in our society come from religious leaders.  When... I think when the Jewish community... when we found out that Billy Graham was an anti-Semite, it sort of... you know, so what’s religion all about?  Here is the spiritual guide to so many presidents, here is the guy that presidents would go for spiritual council and advice, and here we find out he’s just a pure, simple, ugly classic anti-Semite.  So how do you deal with that?  I’ve been raised in faith, I’ve been raised in faith during the war as a Catholic, and then when I returned to Judaism I’ve been raised in faith.  I think it has a role, but frequently it’s abused.  It’s abused by temporal powers, by political institutions for its benefit.  And sometimes it is seduced by the political, by the secular.  I think... I think the judgment is still out whether the promise of the faith, and love, and understanding and sensitivity that religion promises is maybe more counter-productive because some religions teach exclusiveness.  I think the most important element for faith and religion, to be positive instrument and love, is the difference between "a" and "the."  As long as we teach that we have the truth, the only truth, it will only undermine understanding, and respect, and love.  If we can teach that all we do is have a truth; I have a truth, you have a truth, Catholics have a truth, Muslims have a truth, it’s their way to salvation, it’s their way for their people to achieve tranquility, love, future, whatever.

Recorded on June 11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman