Still, the content of religious values is rightly questioned by many when such views are used to excuse the killing of innocent people or hatred and intolerance in our society. How can anything which generates these kind of views be beneficial to society? Here Ward highlights the danger in judging a whole system of thought and practice on the basis of extremes or perversions of that system. Islamic State need to be held in contrast with the work of Islamic relief organizations around the world and the peaceful and humane practice of the vast majority of Muslims. Conflict between religious groups needs to be held in contrast with the many communities working in peace, harmony and respect with each other.
I have been struck in the last few years, as I have got more involved in inter-faith work in the UK, how little the remarkable friendship and co-operation between faith groups here goes completely uncommented on in society and media. One of my most touching experiences in my faith of recent months was discussing my experience of God with a Muslim woman while attending Muslim Friday prayers. Neither of us expected the other to reject our own beliefs or abandon our differences. I believe that Jesus is the saviour of the world, Muslims don't. It is pretty hard to get around that. As Ward notes, describing the major world faiths as 'a search for supreme goodness', both our faiths teach respect for the other, a love of humanity and a valuing of human life. This, to me, has a huge amount to say to a society where difference is often managed poorly and where the individual is often valued for their status or usefulness rather than on the basis of their human dignity.
Ward also tackles a huge range of issues around the nature of religious belief and how this affects human behaviour. Is faith damagingly irrational? Does a belief in life after death lead to a devaluing of human life in the here and now? Are religions with holy books always susceptible to the dangers of taking old outdated laws literally? Is faith a delusional behaviour? Is faith damaging or enriching to our physical and mental wellbeing? You'll have to grab a copy to explore these questions more. I found it hugely enriching and, for what its worth, would definitively recommend it. Perhaps it is best, though, to end on some of Keith Ward's own words.
'So is religion dangerous? Sometimes it is. But it is also one of the most powerful forces in the world for good...At best religion, the search for supreme goodness, a life lived for the sake of good alone, will help promote the welfare of all sentient beings. Some danger is unavoidable in any human enterprise. But religion is a main driving force for wisdom and compassion in a world that would be bleak and cruel without it.'