But America’s religious free-for-all is very much the exception, not the rule, in human history—and increasingly rare, some would say, in the world today. In most human societies, conversion has been seen as an act whose consequences are as much social and political as spiritual; and it has been assumed that the wider community, in the form of the family, the village or the state, has every right to take an interest in the matter. The biggest reason why conversion is becoming a hot international topic is the Muslim belief that leaving Islam is at best a grave sin, at worst a crime that merits execution (see article). Another factor in a growing global controversy is the belief in some Christian circles that Christianity must retain the right to seek and receive converts, even in parts of the world where this may be viewed as a form of cultural or spiritual aggression.Earlier, and I think relevant.
The idea that religion constitutes a community (where the loss or gain of even one member is a matter of deep, legitimate concern to all other members) is as old as religion itself. Christianity teaches that the recovery of a “lost sheep” causes rejoicing in heaven; for a Muslim, there is no human category more important than the umma, the worldwide community of believers.
But in most human societies the reasons why conversion causes controversy have little do with religious dogma, and much to do with power structures (within the family or the state) and politics. Conversion will never be seen as a purely individual matter when one religiously-defined community is at war or armed standoff with another.
July 28, 2008
Religious Freedom Matters
I don't often turn to the Economist for insightful religious commentary but this article on the dangerous right to change one's beliefs is pretty good: