I have said here over and over again how important it is for average citizens to understand how religion influences the world around them -- even if they themselves are not adherents of any religion.
Much the same thing is true for governments. Our own government, for instance, must understand the various branches of Islam (and how that religion plays out in different cultures) if it is to make sense of such hot spots as the Middle East, including Iran and Iraq.
But the picture of religions in the world is often more complex than most people realize. And a good reminder of that came recently in a speech given by a Boston University teacher who also is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Elizabeth Prodromou suggested that the Obama administration would be making a big mistake if it did not take the time to factor in Orthodox Christianity as an important influence in key parts of the world. There are, after all, some 350 million Orthodox Christians in the world, and their approach to life can set the tone for how things play out in many countries.
Orthodoxy, of course, like many branches of many faiths, is not monolithic, as Prodromou correctly noted, so it will be important for members of Obama's foreign policy team to grasp some of the subtleties and divisions within it -- and how those might differ from, say, Catholicism and Protestantism (both branches of which also have various divisions, some formal, some not).
In the end, religion is an extraordinarily important factor in how people and nations behave, and yet religion is also enormously complicated. It's a good message to remember for all of us.
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CAN'T WE JUST ELECT GOD?
In this intriguing analysis, the argument is that the clerics in Iran have given theocracy a bad name. Well, yes, but it doesn't take much to do injury to a system that is so pitifully inappropriate. Humans claiming to speak for God should always be under suspicion.
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NOTE: Until Tuesday, June 30, my Internet access may be limited and/or sporadic, so a long time may go by before I can publish any comments you leave here. Thanks for your patience. I'll eventually get to them. Bill.