This past Thanksgiving weekend ended with a huge fight with the inlaws. We had just finished an amazing turkey dinner and were tucking into glorious pumpkin pie when an argument broke out. How, you ask, can anyone fight over pumpkin pie? The answer is religion.

One of the major concerns I hear about religion in general or “The Big Three Monotheisms” in particular is that religion starts wars, and wars are bad, so therefore religion is bad. The thing is, I believe that concern is completely valid, and I’m not just saying this because my pumpkin pie was ruined this weekend. I’m saying this because I know what deep belief—what passion—does to people.

All wars begin with a disagreement, from socio-economic friction to whose land belongs to whom. Maybe the discussion began decently enough over pie and then palms get clammy, pulses quicken, and the phrase “coming to blows” is made manifest. Obviously these days this happens on a grander scale, in boardrooms with translators between nations, but you catch my drift. Believe something deeply enough and with enough passion, you can be capable of anything, both beautiful and horrible. This is called conviction. Conviction is what will shelter the homeless, protect the forests, and cure cancer. Conviction is what took down the World Trade Centers, perpetrated the Nag Hammadi massacre, and Buddhist violence in Burma.

I don’t condone it; I am saying why arguments, family rifts, and sometimes violence can occur because of religious beliefs. I can see very clearly how it happens, but that does not make it right, or in line necessarily with what The Big Three’s sacred texts teach.

Jewish culture, religious or not, greets one another with “shalom,” the Hebrew word meaning “peace.” Islam, by definition, means “peace.” Jesus, the man-god of Christianity said, “ I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

We’re all too familiar with the unending violence on the Gaza strip, suicide bombers taking out whole communities, the Crusades. But the people who unleashed and continue to unleash those acts of violence are not mainstream believers. They are extremists, taking their passion to the max and harming other human beings, something that almost everyone will agree is wrong. And while I wanted to throw my pie across the table because a) my inlaws were ruining my appetite anyway and b) they were making incoherent arguments against my own beliefs, I am an adult in control of both my reactions and capacity for violence. Most days.

I’m not perfect. My solution to the Thanksgiving fight was to pack my things and drive the 600km home: a solution that might seem like a cop out, but I didn’t punch anybody either.

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