Why Can’t We All Just Coexist?

Multiracial Hands Making a CircleA dear friend was telling me the other day about a bumper sticker that had symbols of some of the world’s religions and writing that said “coexist.” What a shame that as we approach the start of the Easter/Passover season, in which many of the world’s believers participate, people are far from accepting the right of others to worship as they see fit without judgment or condemnation. Why is it that many people feel that their religion is the one true way to believe in and connect to God?

I can only speculate from my perspective as psychotherapist and Yoruba/Lucumi priest. Here are some random guesses.

  • This attitude is a hedge against feeling inferior or less than. If someone follows the “superior” faith, then that means that they are superior and everyone else is beneath them.
  • It is a means of wielding control or having power over others. In other words, only the truly enlightened are capable of ruling, decision-making, or governing. This entitles them to natural resources, land, livestock, workers and so on.
  • It satisfies a sense of entitlement—to more wealth, power, prestige, position, material things, and opportunity. In reality, a sense of entitlement is just a defense against feeling shame, unworthiness, and powerlessness.
  • It is a way of fighting fear—of annihilation, conquest, enslavement.
  • It represents an urgent demand for respect and reverence. However, in reality, one cannot demand respect; it must be earned. And reverence should be reserved for the divine.
  • It justifies conquest and oppression of others—nations, individuals, a particular gender (in most cases, women).
  • It serves as a substitute for good parenting and can be used to threaten children with punishment on a divine level if they don’t behave.
  • It is a statement that people feel threatened by anyone who is different than themselves. Perhaps that goes back to instinct—the hardwired flight or fight response.

So what can we as individuals do to combat this worldwide pathologic response of religious fundamentalists who are ironically supposed to have a love of God and God’s children?

  • For one, we can be aware of our own biases and judgments. This can be a challenge, especially in extremist situations, such as in some parts of the world where women are treated so badly. We can try to all be New Yorkers as described on a New York City subway poster: NYC: where we accept your personal beliefs; where we are judgmental about your shoes. (That’s a joke.)
  • We can challenge others who claim religious moral superiority when we are in their company, pointing out the weaknesses of their positions (of course, only if it is safe to do so).
  • We can support individuals, groups, and others who promote tolerance and acceptance of religious differences (and other differences).
  • By the same token, we can boycott, whenever possible, those who/that promote intolerance. This statement is ironic in view of a recent news item I heard about the Christian right wanting people to boycott Starbucks, which was supporting acceptance of choice in relationships. (Asking New Yorkers to boycott Starbucks is totally unrealistic, I might add.) Probably goes for other parts of the country as well.

I’m sure my readers will have something to say about what I have written in this article. Please feel free to offer your own list of examples of reasons why it is so hard for many to coexist and what solutions are possible.

And if you’re a practitioner, have a joyful Easter-Passover holiday.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kalila Borghini, LCSW

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kelli

    April 4th, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    It makes me angry to think of how exclusive some of these supposedly inclusive faiths and denominations really end up being. Ok so maybe not the faith itself, but the little cliques and sects that pop up within each. Take Christianity for example. We are told to do what Jesus did, and yet those who profess to be the most faithful are the very ones who are condemning others for every step they take! This is so wrong, and no wonder that there are those around the world who view Christianity warily. We as a whole have not followed the steps of Jesus but have in fact done as He would have NOT had us do. I am a believer but I don’t think that I have to conform to every societal ideal in order to be a Christian. Why try to exclude others when all that breeds is more anger and outrage?

  • jason

    April 4th, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    I think we all wants this to be an ideal world but I also think that we all know that that is really not the reality of the world.

    The reality of the world is that there is a lot of prejudice and hatred that most of us are going to find difficult to overcome.

    No, I don’t mean that we give up on that dream of peaceful coexistence, but there are going to be some places where we are fighting a pretty difficult battle.

    There are years, centuries even, of hatred in some parts of the world that can’t be solved with one peace summit.

  • benita

    April 5th, 2012 at 7:32 AM

    The only thing that I know to suggest to my kids and to others is that we can’t think for other people so the best thing that we can do is to keep an open mind for ourselves. It is not the ideal solution and I know that, but what else can we do? Just because I believe one thing and repeat those beliefs for now and forever, that does not mean that I am necessarily going to be able to change one mind if they are closed off to hearing nd receiving the message. We just have to do what we know to be right in our own lives and hope that eventually everyone else will come to the same realizations too.

  • herschelle t

    April 5th, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    although religion is extremely important to many of us,it does not mean we consider others’ religion to be lower or of lesser value.it is just as important to them as yours is to you!trying to put them down is not an achievement but is in fact a disgusting thing to do, whatever you hold as your religion.

  • annaliza

    January 6th, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    People just need to respect each other -individually. We need to just coexist with each other.Ignorancy is a disease!

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