MRU hosts first campus debate on religion
If religion is harmful it’s because humans are harmful, says associate professor
For such a controversial topic, there were still many empty seats in the Jenkins Theatre on March 28 when five panelists gathered together to duke it out on one of the world’s most debated subjects: is religion harmful?
Frances Widdowson, policy studies co-ordinator and event organizer said the goal was “not to promote a particular view point, but to bring together a variety of perspectives.”
She said the reason she came into the university setting was for the free exchange of ideas and she was surprised by how little that happens.
“The university as the site of unfettered idea exploration is currently under threat,” she said in her opening speech.
The panelists consisted of five brave academics: Israel Dunmade, Donald Swenson, Albert Howard, Mahfooz Kanwar and Ricardo Hoar.
Of many who were approached, these five were the only ones willing to step up and present their ideas on the subject.
Their diverse backgrounds and beliefs, some coming from science departments and others from the arts, allowed for a wide range of perspectives.
However, due to some group’s apprehension, particularly from the campus’ multi-faith chaplaincy, Widdowson said the debate did not reach the high level of discussion she had hoped for.
The majority of the debate focused on Christianity, as defended by Dunmade and Swenson. Kanwar’s experience of the Muslim faith brought a different perspective on certain religious customs, while essentially arguing the same thing.
The final two panelists, Howard and Hoar, supported similar positions, each coming from slightly different angle.
Howard, currently working on a book entitled Holy Cow: What Religion Does to Us and What We Can Do About It, held a very firm stance on his belief that religion does, in fact, cause harm.
Hoar, a self-professed “humanist” admitted he did not arrive at a conclusive answer, wavering slightly between for and against on certain points. If religion is harmful it’s because humans are harmful, he said.
While admitting that consensus and reconciliation will not be achieved, Widdowson said the purpose of such a debate is that it “clarifies that a point of contention exists.”