The argument can go both ways, and indeed it does, very often. What’s more, there is lots of criticism heard from religious people, of things associated with secularity. Have you heard that schools of the secular sector introduce more violence? Do you know that secular people as a whole are blamed for maintaining weaker relationships within their families? The Israeli Internet web site ‘Hofesh’ (hofesh.org.il – “freedom” in Hebrew) publishes, among other things, a monthly news page containing a summary of local crimes committed by religious people. This is done not for the purpose of making a generalization, but explicitly for the sake of contradicting the local religious propaganda of purity. In closed communities worldwide, such as in religious fundamentalist ones, there is a tendency to handle their own crime without exposing it to the outside world, often just sweeping it under the carpet.
There are many words of wisdom in the Old and New Testament, as well as in the Koran and the Talmud. The Jewish Mishnaic tractate of ‘Eduyot’ says: “Your actions bring you closer, and your actions bring you further”, which simply and most wisely implies, “Judge things individually”. There are good things done by various religious people, and there are bad things performed by religious people. There are good things done by various secular people, and there are bad things carried out by secular people. If someone acts in a way that deserves criticism according to your opinion, then it’s okay to criticize that someone, whether he or she is a religious person or a secular one.
A somewhat related topic, but of a different ilk, has to do with associating the religious behavior of a group of people with having special protection from God. Religious Jews will generally tell you that it’s specifically their religious habits (especially following the Bible and keeping the Sabbath), which have kept the continuous existence of the Jewish people over the years. This follows the idea that it pays to be faithful, because it guards your community. Many Muslims will boast the fact that Islam has united them and their peoples, and will also claim divine safekeeping.
In a way, the above statements are right. A group’s tendency to live in relative isolation has always contributed to the survival of the group as a whole, with or without relation to any religion. Nevertheless, there are a few important points to note in this strange competition for celestial protection:
Religion contributes to its own survival. There’s no wonder it works – this is what religion is built to do. A large part of religious content is tailored especially to protect the religious belief against external influences, regardless of them being true or false, good or bad.
The survival and protection of the group is not the same as the survival and protection of the people. Many ancient nations have not survived, but their descendants live happily among us today as Muslims, Jews, Americans, French, Germans or whatever, time and again being very proud of their current people’s history.
Furthermore, even groups and nations that have survived are generally different from their ancestors. During the years, habits and customs have changed. Some have changed slightly and others have been drastically altered. In most cases even the genes (i.e., the race) have been mixed with those of other peoples and groups.
An old culture may wonder about its own survival and seek reasons for it. However, by definition, there will always be only those who survived – that is what survival is all about. Those who didn’t make it, for whatever reasons, are not here with us to philosophize on the matter, regardless of their original belief being more right or wrong. In other words: Where there is a finite set of nations, there must be a most ancient one. There is no reason to wonder that something that must happen has happened.
For a group of people, being more ancient than another group does not entitle them to anything more or better. There are no points collected and no game to win. Just a little bit of pride (which is not bad in itself). Generally speaking, it should be more important to look ahead and plan for the future than to advocate the past.
If keeping religious commands is associated with things happening to the group, then why only connect it to the survival of the group? It can be associated just the same with the suffering of the members of the group over the years, which has been unfortunately true in the Jewish case as well as (recently) in the Muslim case.
And finally, with our modern world becoming amazingly and rapidly smaller, it seems that given enough time – perhaps hundreds even thousands of years from now – the ethnic issue will simply die of natural causes. That is, if mankind does not succeed in exterminating itself sooner.
Some researchers view monotheism (the belief in a single god) in the Western religions, as a root of arrogance, which leads to racism: Your gods are not legitimate, only ours is, hence we are superior to you.
A famous joke explains how cheap it is to call God on the phone from a certain location, because it’s a local call. The exact location depends greatly on the person telling the joke. It could be Ireland. It could be Jerusalem. It could be Alberta, Canada. It could be other places.
Are we special? Sure! We’re all special! We are human beings!! This is what makes us special. We should not forget and should not violate this uniqueness, by strange and foolish attitudes towards other human beings.