The ninth annual World Religion Conference opened Monday night with a moment of silence in honour of two soldiers who were killed last week and it couldn’t have fit better with this year’s theme of, “Is religion a source of conflict?”
Representatives from Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and atheism offered the crowd of more than 500 people insight into their respective belief systems while tying their talks into why they believed religion may or may not be a source of conflict.
This was the first year that atheism was represented at the conference. Represented by Karen Lumley Kern, the president of the Edmonton Society of Atheists, who told the crowd that while atheism is not technically a religion as it rejects the notion of deities, it was still a set of beliefs that she felt were pertinent to the conference.
Kern was the only one of the four speakers to emit a large cheering response from the crowd upon saying, “Tonight’s topic of discussion is whether or not religion is a source of conflict or peace– and my answer is yes.
“This shouldn’t be an ‘or’ question – religion is a source of both conflict and peace.”
She spoke of secularism and how she wishes as an atheist that the world could be a secular place, meaning that everyone was tolerant of one another’s religions, while also touching on fundamental and extremist sects of religions.
“Fundamentalism is strict adherence to theological doctrines, usually marked by a literal view of the scripture. This viewpoint tends to not be very accepting of other religions or views even within their own religions and these groups are present in all religions,” said Kern.
She then gave examples from past historical events of fundamentalist groups from all representative religions present at the conference that have committed religious acts of violence or ‘terrorism’.
Including well-known atheist Joseph Stalin killing off hundreds of thousands of priests and religious people, Islamic Taliban attacks on a girl in Pakistan who had been advocating secular thoughts, Hindu extremist protests and attacks which killed around 40 people after they stated Hindus were being illegally converted to Christianity, as well as a Christian man who killed over 100 people in Oslo, Norway claiming in his manifesto to be ‘100% Christian’ and that he wanted to purge Muslims from Europe.
Her conclusion stated that every religion has been a source of conflict or war and without secularity and acceptance of other religions; extremist views will never help to foster peace.
Dr. Mohyuddin Mirza, outreach director for the Ahmadiyyaya Muslim Jama’at in Edmonton, represented the Islamic faith where he addressed the issue of, “Islam as a source of conflict.” Mirza, whose sect of Islam fosters a notion of being a, “Jihad of pen, not Jihad of sword”, recently held a symposium in Edmonton where he hoped to ensure youth were not ‘tricked’ by violent Islamic State ideology.
He explained that the word Islam literally translates to peace, “So if the word literally means peace, then why is the media primarily associating the word Islam with violence? We hear Islamic terrorist, but it has nothing to do with terrorism.”
He added, “So if our God is a non-denominational one, not interested in killing people and our religion promotes peace, then why are there some Muslims who are committing violence in the name is Islam? This is because when religion drifts from its source people create their own interpretations and use it to gain power over others, and then try to enforce it on other people, but these people are not representative of the entire religion.”
Moderator for the event and RDC instructor, Dr. Guillermo Barron, stated he is proud to host such an event at RDC and hopes that next year’s event will continue to foster a notion of understanding and that he has big plans for the conference’s 10th anniversary next year.