Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Messy Religion

Written by on .

This post was produced for the Global Economic Symposium 2013 to accompany a session on “Can Religion Help Solve Global Problems?” Read more at

“How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake,” tweeted Pope Francis in response to proposed U.S. military strikes in Syria.

You read me right, tweeted.

Religion and leaders of religious institutions have a dismal track record as keepers of the peace. Some of history’s worst wars, persecutions, and Inquisitions were overseen “in the name of God.”

Yet the common tenants of most religions worldwide describe and demand a peaceful, open, neighborly world. The people who run these groups seem to forget or misinterpret that and mess it up.

Optimistically, there are examples of religious leaders and non-leaders around the world living by those principles that guide spiritual belief. The Ghandis and Mother Teresas of the world, but also the local religious leaders hell bent on quietly living out their faith and helping others.

It’s a dose of humanitarianism the rest of the world can do well to hear.

Humanity itself, as well as all of its institutions, remains rather messy.

The entangled religions that cross borders and cultures complicate these issues.

In Syria, many Christians support the regime of Bashar al-Assad out of fears a jihadist takeover after Assad would lead to their demise.

Kurds in Iraq have a lengthy history as a state-less religious group in a nation filled with turmoil.

Coptic Christians in Egypt have found their churches burned and themselves persecuted in the violent fallout of the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood’s political movement.

As it has for millennia, when warring cultural or geographic communities adhere to distinct religions, God appears to get messy. Religious groups clash and the shared tenants of peace are dropped.

Once in a while, it takes a Tweet from an Argentinean-Italian to remember the roots of religion and the potential such influential belief systems have to either keep the peace or drive wedges between societies.

A few Tweets are of course small additions, not guarantees of real change or progress toward religious leaders and institutions en masse living by their communal commitment to peace.

It takes the mass of humanity, much more than a mere 140 typed characters, to prevent war. But leading humanity can happen in new ways.

These signs of new technology, used to boldly proclaim the ancient hope for peace, bring about changes in society that resonate in a modern world.

When Martin Luther translated the Holy Bible from Greek and Latin to his local German, it was scandalous. Now the pope tweets anti-war messages.

At the outset of the Jewish holiday, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, tweeted, “As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.”

Perhaps the new Catholic pontiff put it best on his Twitter account: “With all my strength, I ask each party in the conflict not to close themselves in solely on their own interests. #prayforpeace.”

Jamie Stark Twitter: JamieStarkJamie

Jamie Stark is an American freelancer and blogger, currently working in South and Central America. He has written on everything from the future of religion to unusual politicians to new entrepreneurism. He researches and writes about the next generation of leaders in his collaborative blog,