Monastery of São Martinho de Tibães , Portugal

10.11.2012 - 22.12.2012






by Inês Valle, 2012

Lately the debate about religion has occupied a place of prominence in the public arena. Largely due to globalization, society has been facing an intensifying instability in its founding structures. With the consequent clash of religions and devotional practices, religious fundamentalism has been intensified and the balance of coexistence between the religious and the atheists has been affected.

September 11 has changed the perception of Islamism in the west, reducing the already diminished tolerance towards the “other”, instigating a social, cultural and political restructuring of the relationships between territories and communities. This event can be seen as a second moment in a path of evolution of mentalities in the recent past. The first was the change of attitudes towards religious conservatism that occurred in the sixties, prompting a new view or a demystification of the “model of God.” God became something more spiritual and seemingly disconnected from institutionalised religion, and thus closer to humanity. As a result, the West has developed a search and adherence to religions considered more spiritual and introspective, such as Buddhism. Perhaps as a means of survival, religious institutions in the West began to incorporate and discuss social issues such as equal gender rights, homosexuality, divorce, sex and contraception. The religious freedom gained allowed an enhanced understanding of the other, opening the borders of knowledge and tolerance to the unknown. However, these ideals were put at risk with the September 11 terrorist attack, stimulating a setback in mentalities. Despite the scientific and ethical breakthroughs that society has achieved, religion continues posing as one of the main motifs to justify segregation and disputes between communities and societies. The alleged conceptualization of God is something that we are all aware of: a supreme being, transcendent, omnipresent and omnipotent, with powers over our destiny and fortune. We not only define the conceptof God, but we also usually assume what He thinks, feels, loves, and what He expects from us. This “domestication” of the idea or will of God according to our reality ends up conditioning its own definition. How can we define the indefinable, the impalpable or the immaterial? Confucius preferred not to speak of the divine, believing it beyond the boundaries of language and that theology was a form of distraction over the real purpose of religion. One of his golden rules defined religion as a matter of action and not cogitation. In the name of ‘God’ politics have been justified, wars have been fought and atrocities have taken place. To Him we regularly ask for blessing, protection and leverage against our enemy, forgetting that on the flipside the ‘enemy’ is someone equally loved by God. In political speeches in the United States of America, it is common to hear the sentence: “God bless America”, but shouldn’t we want God to bless all the people in the world? 

Given the social, economic and political inconsistencies that we are facing, religion presents itself as one of the few realities that has remained unchanged, resisting an unveiling debate of its actions thus preventing a restructuring of attitudes and ideals. In places of social extremes such as Nigeria, faced with a precarious and uncertain future, thousands of people are returning to the familiar and “stable”, and religion is seen as a solution or rather an immediate refuge to life’s problems. God is presented in almost in the same way as Santa Claus, but while the idea of the latter is questioned and demystified as we grow up, the idea of God stays “primitive”, remaining raw and unquestioned. Perhaps it is for that same reason that religion nowadays allows Man a way of expressing his identity and individuality in the face of a society that tends towards homogeneity by virtue of globalization. 
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We can think that religion has lost its power and control in the contemporary society, but it continues to be one of the biggest “economic banks” in the world. Religion uses the incognito, the unjustifiable, the fear of death and the immeasurable faith of Man, to continue its usurpation to control crowds of believers who yearn for a better life and hope of surviving in a world increasingly tumultuous and uncertain. Statistical data shows that religion’s power in today’s society cannot be underestimated. Of the 6.8 billion that make up the world’s population, nearly 5 billion people are devoted to the four major monotheistic religions of the world and is estimated that 2 billion follow Christianity, 1.5 billion Islam, 1.3 billion Buddhism, and 1 billion Hinduism.  The GOD FACTOR project aims to raise awareness and promote the understanding and reflection of the “other” as well as the conflicts generated by the lack of understanding and tolerance towards different identities and religious practices. By understanding the “Other” we assign him a humanity that had been lost. An “enemy is someone whose story has not been heard.”



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