Can Religion Be a Force for Good?

Question: How can we work towards making religion a force for \r\ngood?

Abraham Foxman:  Well, the irony, the tragedy is, that’s \r\nwhat religion is supposed to be.  It’s supposed to teach us the \r\ndifference 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\r\n one of those that believes there needs to be a separation between \r\nreligion and state.  And yet, at the same time, if the spirit of love \r\nwhich comes from religion doesn’t inspire our leadership, it could be \r\nvery, very dangerous and counterproductive.  So it’s a very difficult \r\nbalance. 

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

Recorded on June \r\n11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

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

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